The High Court quite rightly came hard upon the National Board of Revenue for non-compliance with its earlier order to set up devices for detection of chemicals in imported fruits at all land and sea ports. On submission of a writ petition as early as February 29, 2012 by the Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), the HC ordered the NBR to set up such chemical testing units for monitoring if imported fruits are treated with chemicals or not.
After long seven years when the case came up for hearing on June 23 this year, the same bench of the HC ordered the chairman of the National Board of Revenue and the customs department to submit a report on the progress of setting up of chemical-detection devices. Now the deadline set for submitting an explanation for non-compliance of the order is December 05 next at the latest. Meanwhile Deputy Attorney General ABM Abdullah Al Mahmud Bashar, who appeared for the NBR, informed the court that the revenue authority did not cooperate with him.
The impression is, for seven years nothing happened. It will do so now or in the future. It is intriguing that a case of such importance concerning human health and nutrition was delayed so long in the first place. Now that the petitioner has moved again and the HC has answered to address the issue, the parties involved have opted for non-compliance!
True, the country has been producing more and more fruits. But the country's soil and climate are not supportive of a few fruits -apple and grapes being two of the most nutritious, tasty and popular ones. Quality dates are also treated as exotic fruits. Although some enterprising farmers have successfully started cultivating date varieties from the Middle-east, such efforts are very limited. So, some varieties of fruits will always be on the import list. Now here was an attempt on the part of the HRPB to ensure that the fruits came under the scanner before those get entry into the country.
Many people's personal experiences with imported fruits like apple and persimmon are not quite happy. Such fruits refuse to rot within weeks even if they are kept in the open. What is the secret? Even the HC wondered what kind of chemicals are used for extension of shelf life of fruits and how much damage those are causing to human health!
The NBR and customs department cannot take such a grave issue lightly. When consignments of shrimp, vegetables and fruits from Bangladesh fail to pass the sanitary and phytosanitary tests, the European Union rejects and sends back those consignments. Why cannot we set a benchmark for food, fruits included, safety?
Bangladesh is no longer a starving nation, its buoyant economy and annual growth suggest it deserves better when bargaining for commodities. It can refuse fruits or any other commodity that falls short of its national standard.
The problem here, though, is that the country is yet to set such a high standard of its consumer items. In a country where foods are randomly adulterated and even fake and substandard medicines are produced and marketed widely, preventing compromise on quality of the consumables becomes a daunting challenge. So far as cultivation, tending and ripening of fruits are concerned, charity has not at all begun at home. Time and again, the media come up with news that availability of normally ripened fruits other than the chemically ripened is a rarity.
Evidently, developments on the fruit sector have mixed result. When Bangladesh, as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) cites, is ranked 10th largest tropical fruit-growing country, it should make its people proud, only more so when it records 11.5 per cent annual growth on an average over the past 18 years. In 2017-18, the country's output of fruit stood at 12.1 million tonnes -up from 8.78 million tonnes in 2006-07. It is very satisfying that the number of varieties of fruit has also increased from 56 to 72 within a decade. Today farmers have started farming exotic fruits commercially.
However all these positives receive a blow in the context that an adult's average share in daily fruit consumption here is just 80 grams as against the standard 250 grams. Those positives are brought to naught when fruits are artificially ripened or chemically treated to give them an extended shelf life. The authorities have destroyed tons of mangoes when those were found to be chemically treated. Pineapple, lichi -two luscious fruits are suspect for abused treatment even during fruition and caring. It is no secret that the two fruits have lost sweetness and flavour.
Clearly, the focus should be directed to the home front as well. That the production of fruits has gone up many times is good news but how those are produced, taken care of, ripened should be monitored on a regular basis. Chemical-laced fruits or any other foods can cause several diseases including cancer. When measures should be taken on this count, no distinction should be made between locally produced fruits and the imported varieties. The ultimate consideration ought to be the nation's health and well-being.