Wage war against food adulteration
Food adulteration has reached an alarming level at the present time in Bangladesh. It can be said that this is the most horrific of all the tools used for destroying human beings. The problem is not only ignoring the human rights for safer food but also endangering public health seriously as this has become a national issue.
Food adulteration occurs globally and in many facets. As a result it affects almost all food items. Bangladesh has also grappled with this adulterated for last few years. As per the news and articles published in different newspapers and media, most of the foods manufactured or processed are either adulterated in varying degrees or unsafe for consumption. Through this adulteration of food, our future generation will be seriously affected with vulnerable physical and mental growth.
What does food adulteration means? The term '|Food adulteration' suggests that a food product fails to meet the legal standards. One form of adulteration is an addition of another substance to a food item in order to increase the quantity of the food item in raw form or prepared form, which may result in the loss of actual quality of food item.
In Bangladesh, food adulteration with toxic chemicals has reached an epidemic proportion which is harmful to health. It is a 'silent killer'. Everyday food items-raw foods like the vegetable, fruits, milk and milk products, fish, meat and processed food are contaminated. Mostly used adulterants are formalin, textile colours, leads, melamine, shampoo, artificial sweeteners and urea. Now it is really difficult to find good or safe food.
Foods contaminated with toxic chemicals pose is a serious threat to public health. Adulterated food items may cause asthma, larynx constriction, bronchitis, skin infections, allergic reactions, diarrhoea, hematuria, circulatory failure, kidney failure, stomach cancer, liver cancer, nervous disorders and a premature loss of life. Consumption of adulterated foods with antibiotics, human body becomes antibiotic resistant. In recent years, patients with hepatic and renal insufficiency in hospitals have increased dramatically!
The impact of food adulteration will be grave for our next generation. Though adulterated foods are dangerous for all, the impact of food adulteration falls most on children. They will be less intelligent and frequently have to go to hospital. Hence, medical expenses will increase day by day which will create a serious impact on the socio-economic conditions. So, adulterated foods are destroying our future generation.
According to the World Health Organization, 'the food contamination and food adulteration situation of Bangladesh is a serious public health concern. Unsafe or contaminated food causes many acute and life-long diseases, ranging from diarrhoeal diseases to various forms of cancer. WHO estimates that globally food borne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases taken together kill about 2.2 million people annually, of them 1.9 million are children.'
A recent survey report on country's milk and dairy products by the National Food Safety Laboratory of Institute of Public Health has brought some disquieting facts to light. The laboratory tested 190 samples- 96 raw cow milk samples collected from dairy firms, 31 samples of the imported and locally produced milk and 33 curd samples. It reveals that an overwhelming 96 per cent of raw milk and 66-80 per cent of packed milk were found to contain bacteria.
In 2017, a survey was conducted by the Institute of Public Health on 640 samples of 51 different kinds of food items. It was found that adulteration took place in 183 samples of 30 different food items. The highest adulteration took place in the case of soybean oil. In the soybean oil, adulteration was found in 21 out of 28 samples. In case of sweetmeat, all 32 samples were adulterated.
There are many legal and regulatory regimes for ensuring food safety in Bangladesh, such as, Penal Code 1860, Control of Essential Commodities Act 1956, Food (Special Courts) Act 1956, Pure Food Ordinance 1959, Cantonments Pure Food Act 1966, Pesticide Ordinance 1971, Special Powers Act 1974, Fish and Fish Products Ordinance 1983, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution Ordinance 1985, Iodine Deficiency Disorders Prevention Act 1989, Consumers Rights Protection Act 2009 etc.
In light of the article 15 of the Bangladesh constitution, a fundamental duty of the state is to secure provision of the basic necessities of life including food. Article 18 of the constitution mentions that the state shall raise the level of nutrition and improve public health as its primary responsibility. These provisions, even though they appear in the constitution as fundamental policies and not as fundamental rights.
The question is, 'why food is being adulterated?' Experts say, food adulteration has been happening on a massive scale due to increased investment, expanded market and high consumer demand. Greed for fast super profit and moral degradation among food traders have led to today's alarming situation. Unlike the other countries, it is very easy to open an eatery in Bangladesh. Resulting, hardly, we consume foods that are free of adulteration.
People from all walks of life are aware of the dangers of eating adulterated foods with toxic chemicals. Nevertheless, they are buying and consuming these adulterated foods. Several explanations are made for this paradox; absence or unavailability of non-adulterated food, failure of the regulatory agency to test and screen out adulterated food, adulterated foods are attractive in appearance and costs less, cultural factors and food habits etc.
Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pledged to put more effort into stopping food adulteration. She said, 'mixing adulterants with food is also a kind of corruption. Nobody has the right to destroy people's health.' So we can expect that the government will take adequate measures for better coordination among law enforcement and other concerned agencies to check food adulteration and ensure safe food.
Consumption of adulterated food items severely affects the human health by producing many acute and chronic diseases. We are very afraid of thinking- are we becoming a paralyzed nation gradually? Will our children be less intelligent and less meritorious in future? To protect our future generation from this curse, we have to stop food adulteration. Otherwise, the entire nation will be in a terrible risk.
The government will have to take stern action against the violators of food safety laws. Adequate measures by the concerned authorities, civil societies, print and electronic media, social organizations and even consumers can make a difference to ensure food security and safe food for all. It is a high time for us to come up and raise our voices against food adulteration. We hope this situation will change.
Recently the High Court observed that the food adulteration cannot be tolerated and there can be no compromise on this. HC said, 'we urge the government, the ruling party and the prime minister to declare a war on food adulteration the way it was done in case of narcotics.' So, we also urge to our government, please declare war against food adulteration. This is not an issue to compromise with.
The writer is columnist and MPhil researcher at the School of Education of Bangladesh Open University