The Financial Express

Dealing with food adulteration menace  

Dealing with food adulteration menace   

Perhaps it is the dilly-dallying in taking action against food adulteration which has prompted the High Court to take its tough stance on it. Now that 52 factory-processed edible items have been identified by the court for withdrawal from the market, people in general have heaved a sigh of relief. These products have been found to have failed to pass muster in a test conducted by the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI). The products included certain brands of mustard oil, so-called mineral water, vermicelli products, powdered turmeric and dry chilli, ghee, noodles, biscuits, chips and some widely consumed items. Besides a few noted food processors, these products are being churned out mostly by mid-level and obscure companies. These companies dominate the markets countrywide --- especially the rural swathes. But in reality, they cater to the lower and lower-middle class clientele in both rural and urban areas.  It is now quite evident that the relevant authorities dealing with the issue of food adulteration and processing of substandard items have been jolted out of their cocoon of contentment. Brisk activities demonstrating their seriousness in facing up to the menace are perceptible. All this augurs well, at least for now.

People can now feel reassured that the HC is beside them. The government has quite often come up with grand promises of uprooting the scourge of adulterated, euphemistically termed substandard, foods. To the dismay of the consumers, those finally emerged as hollow words. Safe food campaign activists are always relentless in pressing their demands. Seminars, workshops and human chains continue to be held in Dhaka and other large cities.

According to people with scruple, when it comes to food products and public health, there are no scopes for oscillation. In most of the developed countries, food adulteration and production of substandard processed food items have warranted stringent laws and harsh punishment for the offenders. To speak pithily, food adulteration is a dreaded topic in those societies.

In Bangladesh, barring occasional uproars caused by large-scale impounding of adulterated and substandard processed foods, most of the consumers remain nonchalant about the hazards involved with these products. Leave alone the ingredients used in these foods, many even do not bother to check on manufacture and expiry dates mentioned on the food containers. That the average educated people lack the minimum awareness of the different features related to the items they collect from market is understatement. In fact, many people nonchalantly consume foods even after they are publicly declared greatly harmful for human consumption. Public awareness, thus, is one of the preconditions for the operation of a market free of hazardous food items. There is no way to absolve the adulterators of their misdeeds. The chief key to food safety and public health is held by the food and beverage companies. But as the situation has been unfolding over the couple of decades, business black sheep have been calling the shots with impunity. Occasional busting operations targeting their dens have miserably failed to prove any effectiveness. With the summer fruits beginning to arrive in the market, the nation has begun bracing for another ugly and horrifying episode of adulteration.

There have been little changes in the overall activities of food adulteration and processing of substandard food items despite periodic exhortations from the higher authorities. The displeasure of the higher court over the menace has reached such an extent that it mulls an extreme action. The HC has observed, "If necessary, the state may declare an emergency for preventing food adulteration." To underscore the problem's grave nature, the higher court has urged the government, the ruling party and the Prime Minister to declare a war on food adulteration the way it was done in the case of narcotics. In reality, the breadth of the afflictions caused by food adulteration is much wider. While drug addiction plays havoc with the lives of a considerable number of youths, they remain limited to well-marked and identified groups of people --- mostly youths. But the ravages caused by adulterated processed food cover a broader area of society. Many fall victim to the trap of adulterated fruits and different types of food goods without being aware of the agents of harm lurking in them. Hundreds of physical hazards, and even untimely deaths, result from the consumption of substandard processed foods and chemical-soaked fruits. It has long been common knowledge.

Periodic raids by law enforcement agencies and the striking forces coupled with mobile courts keep continuing. Seizure of adulterated and substandard food items, slapping fines on errant traders and arrests are normal spectacles. To the great woes of the general consumers and safe food campaigners, the unscrupulous food traders somehow wriggle themselves out of the legal actions. According to experts, there are a lot of legal loopholes, with occasional calls coming from them for stringent rules against compromising with the quality of food items. But these piecemeal reprimands have so far borne little fruits. In order to achieve the desired goal, the directive from the HC will, surely, prove to be a strong antidote.



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