The Financial Express

Ensuring food safety

| Updated: October 21, 2021 22:18:11

File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected) File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected)

The Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute's (BARI's) latest study on eggplant, cauliflower, flat bean and long bean has only confirmed its earlier findings that pesticide residues in vegetables available in the market are at a dangerously high level. Similar probe into vegetables carried out in 2019 and 2020 also came up with such worrying results. Not only do farmers randomly use chemical pesticides but the amount they use is also higher than the prescribed level. Scientists at the BARI usually bring under their study vegetables obtained directly from farms and markets located in different areas including kitchen markets in the capital. In some cases, farmers use pesticides the day before bringing those to kitchen markets. The longest time lag between application of pesticides and marketing was 5-6 days but even this gap is not enough. But farmers have not been made sufficiently aware of the danger of the presence of pesticides in vegetables on account of shorter time lag. There is no reason to think that farmers use different criteria for vegetables they consume.

The problem lies with the lack of general awareness in this part of the world of what makes food safe. True, chemical fertilisers and pesticides have been responsible for doubling or in some cases tripling production of some crops and vegetables. Without such increased production of food, it would be impossible to feed the growing population. But there is a limit to the use of chemicals that go into the making of fertilisers and pesticides. Overuse and misuse of these substances only exacerbate the problem. Soil fertility reaches its optimal level at a point and then no amount of fertiliser can augment production. Rather, it decreases. Overuse of pesticides has its danger of a different kind---not only does it kill beneficial microorganism but also allow harmful pests' resistance to such substances.

Many Western countries have started shifting their focus from chemical fertilisers and pesticides to their organic counterparts. In this country too, some isolated endeavours have been quite successful in producing organic fertilisers and pesticides with appreciable results from their use at the field level. The problem is that these do not receive the patronage they deserve; rather use and import of chemical fertilisers and pesticides are encouraged. The sharks in such businesses both at home and abroad are too powerful to be tamed. Under the present circumstances, the country cannot go for organic fertilisers and pesticides alone. But definitely the use of the chemical varieties can be limited to a large extent if farmers are made properly knowledgeable about their use and the additional benefit of mixed application of both chemical and organic types.

The bottom line is to ensure safe food for all. It is not fighting hunger on the one front and fighting pests on the other. In fact, success lies in combining the two for an integrated programme. If the foods people consume contain carcinogenic and other harmful residues, people cannot lead a healthy life. Although food safety has been incorporated in the national food policy, there are miles to go before safe foods can be ensured for the nation. But the campaign should be started under a well-formulated strategy.

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