Law Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed today urged the people to go for legal action against the food adulterators to protect the people’s health.
“It’s not solely a government responsibility to check food adulteration. All citizens have the right to sue the food adulterators,” the minister told a seminar at the National Press Club in the city.
On the other hand, the food ministry has drafted a proposal to set up a single agency to fight the menace effectively from production to consumption alarmed by widespread food adulteration in the country.
If approved, the plan would replace the existing system of food quality control that involves as many as 15 ministries with 10 ministries and their agencies directly taking part in inspection and law enforcement.
“When I approached the prime minister this week on this issue, she asked me to turn in a formal proposal,” Food Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque told The Daily Star yesterday, adding the ministry would do so at the earliest.
Declining to share the draft with this correspondent before submitting it to the prime minister, Razzaque said, “Our aim is to establish a single authority with full power to address the menace. That agency will remain accountable to an assigned ministry.”
The minister, however, said entrusting an agency with fighting adulteration — like the Food and Drug Administration in the US — does not necessarily mean other government bodies should shrug off their responsibilities.
“We’d rather recommend the proposed agency get expertise of all relevant ministries and agencies and use all the lab facilities, no matter under whom those operate.”
The minister said the draft also has a list of laws that have been in effect since the Pakistan era and need updating.
Referring to the capital’s Malibagh kitchen market, declared formalin-free by Commerce Minister GM Quader on September 19, he said, “We must understand that keeping a single kitchen market formalin-free won’t do. All people of the country have the right to safe food.”
The Malibagh initiative was taken by the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
“I come from a place [Tangail] where chemicals are applied at random to pineapples; people say traders even use burned Mobil for frying jilapi.
“We all know about the rampant use of formalin and chemical preservatives,” he said. “Something must be done and immediately.”
Unabated sales of adulterated foodstuffs posing high health risks worry consumers across the country.
The excessive use of chemicals like formalin, calcium carbide, pesticides and artificial growth regulators on a wide range of products from fruits to fish to vegetables keep consumers wonder where to buy safe food.
They have long been complaining about the use of formalin on fish and tomato, and applications of carbide and growth regulators on banana, pineapples and other fruits.
“I tend not to buy banana, pineapples these days for my daughter because of harmful chemicals they [producers, marketers] use to forcibly ripen and preserve those,” said SK Chowdhury, a resident in the city’s Dhanmondi area.
“We also feel unsafe while buying fish like rui, katla and mrigel as the fishmongers apply formalin to fishes.”
Agronomist Shahidul Islam, a consultant of UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said environment pollution as well as the use of chemicals like formalin and carbide on food items poses serious health hazards to consumers.
Brac Executive Director Mahbub Hossain, also an analyst of farm economy and food security, told The Daily Star that while Bangladesh showed much prospect in ensuring availability of food and keeping the prices within purchasing ability of people, food adulteration has become a big threat to food security.
Under a project titled “Improving Food Safety, Quality and Food Control in Bangladesh”, the FAO two years ago assessed the capacity of the ministries and agencies involved in food inspection and enforcement.
The assessment revealed food inspection in Bangladesh is not based on risk assessment and inspection actions don’t cover the entire food chain.
Participants at a FAO-organised food safety stocktaking meeting noted that food standards are certified by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution.
The existing standards are to a large extent obsolete, quality oriented and overlapping and don’t cover the most common food products, they observed.
Limited coordination and communication between the enforcement agencies has been identified as one of the main food inspection challenges.
The lack of coordination between the agencies is considered a cause of both gaps in inspection and overlapping enforcement activities
As shameless and open adulteration of food items in Bangladesh goes unabated and rise to an art form and the Commerce Minister advise eating less, fruit traders in Dhaka admit there is not a single fruit item where formalin as preservative has not been used and even the Date, considered consuming during the fasting month of Ramadan as Sunnah, is not spared.