Danger lurking in the sweetness

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury   | Published: August 18, 2018 22:19:44 | Updated: August 19, 2018 22:22:34

It is well-known that most perishable food products in the country are laced with dangerous chemicals. Some fruits like mangoes, bananas, malta are ripened artificially. Others are polished with formalin so that they do not rot naturally.

A series of investigative reports in the leading dailies in Bangladesh around 2006 also revealed that many fast-moving consumer goods manufactured locally are also adulterated.

Concerned departments of the government have time and again conducted drives against these adulterated goods. Often, these drives were successful in curbing the intensity of the crisis for a limited period of time. But the drives were almost always focussed in large cities like Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and  Rajshahi.

It is alleged that taking advantage of this tendency, many small and medium factories that specialise in making counterfeit and substandard products focus on the market in rural areas of Bangladesh and in the outskirts of major cities including Dhaka.

One of the most sensitive categories among all such products supplied to these areas is candy and chocolate products. The market segment of these products is mostly children and teenagers.

A recently aired investigative report by Maasranga Television on one such factory located in Uttar Khan in the outskirts of Dhaka revealed how these products are manufactured. It was found that the chocolate products and lychee candies were being packaged on the dirty floors. Also, instead of using vegetable fat and food grade colour in these items, low quality dalda, fabric dye and other dangerous products are being used. Also, milk flavour and low quality sugar are used instead of actual milk and refined sugar.

These products are supplied to shops and stores in rural Bangladesh and on the outskirts of Dhaka city. In the television interview, shopkeepers told the reporter that the price of these sub-standard and mostly, knock-off products are almost half of the original international brand of chocolates. This is why there is a high demand for these among child consumers.

It is alleged that there are plenty of similar factories located on the outskirts of Dhaka in Kadamtali, Jatrabari, Lalbagh etc; where such products are manufactured.

It can be understood that little progress has been made in identifying and taking actions against these factories since 2014.  That year, the Institute of Public Health had released results of tests they had conducted on 10,289 samples of 50 food items, including chocolate, cake, sweetmeats, juice, edible oil, spices, milk products, lentils, biscuits, jellies, dried fish, flours, tea leaves and more.

Except for fenugreek, black pepper and sesame oil, around 80 to 90 per cent samples of the remaining products were tested as adulterated by the IPH. This list includes chocolates and other candies as well.

Since then, articles on the alarming issue have been carried in many national and regional dailies of the country. But as the drives against anti-adulterated products were mostly focussed on perishable products and some fast moving consumer goods, these items were mostly ignored.

But this should not be the case. Such adulterated products can cause serious health problems for consumers. According to reports by some dailies, candies like lozenges are being manufactured with wax, low quality fabric dye and saccharine.

Also, the cheap counterfeit products of international brands are made with such ingredients which are extremely harmful for liver, kidneys, stomach and other important organs of children.

In the Maasranga report on the factory making counterfeit chocolate products, senior officials of the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) were questioned why and how this factory received their approval. The BSTI said that the factory was provided approval for manufacturing local products with standardised raw materials. The BSTI is unaware of the factory's current product range and production details as the "government agency does not have the human resources required to investigate and monitor the activities of all factories producing food items."

Taking advantage of such weaknesses of the BSTI, such factories in the chocolates and candy sector are continuing their unscrupulous activities. The government needs to strengthen the BSTI, prioritise the most important sectors where adulteration is rampant and approve anti-adulteration drives against them.

Notably, while all other food sectors are important, chocolates, candies and related food items are mostly aimed at children. Consumption of such products can gravely affect this group considered the future of this country.



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