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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Adulterated food: a serious public health problem in Bangladesh

Adulteration of food with toxic chemicals harmful to health has reached an epidemic proportion in Bangladesh. The newspapers have dubbed it as the ‘silent killer’. It is very difficult to find a sector of food industry which is free of adulteration. From raw vegetable and fruits to milk and milk products to fish, meat and processed food–every food item is contaminated. Almost every day in the news papers, newer and newer methods of adulterating newer and newer types of foods are reported.  Carbide, formalin, textile colours, artificial sweeteners, DDT, urea etc. are used rampantly for this purpose.

Contamination of foods with toxic chemicals pose a serious threat to public health, especially in a country like Bangladesh where due to poor health literacy, level of awareness is very low. Immediate effect of ingestion of such foods may be severe forms of diarrhoea (food poisoning), threatening life. In the long run, these chemicals in food adversely affect vital organs such as the liver and kidney resulting in organ failure and/or cancer and thus, untimely loss of life. There is no database in the country for these, but the recent surge in liver and kidney failure patients in the hospitals is indicative of the deteriorating situation.

Ironically, people from all walks of life is aware of the hazards of taking foods adulterated with toxic chemicals, but this knowledge is not translated into practice. In a recent study, it has been found that though people are aware about the health hazards, they are nevertheless 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.

There is no paucity of laws and regulations to contain adulteration of food in Bangladesh such as Bangladesh Standard Testing Institute (BSTI) Ordinance of 1985, and the Pure Food Ordinance of 2005. Under the purview of these rules come the following offences: fake licenses, poor quality of food, substandard infrastructure and lack of maintaining hygiene, food adulteration, food impurity, incorrect information on food packages, selling products whose date have expired etc. However, the problem lies in its sustained and appropriate implementation by credible authority. Occasionally, the regulatory authorities will be suddenly in an active mode, and conduct mobile courts to penalize sellers/producers for selling contaminated products/foods. Then, there will be a lull for a few days and after few weeks, business becomes as usual.

So what is to be done?

First and foremost, commitment from the political establishment to wage a sustained campaign against these perpetrators of heinous crime, and establish our fundamental right to have safe and nutritious food! For this to achieve, relentless enforcement of existing laws with the execution of highest penalty possible, awareness-building campaign among consumers, promotion of ethical practices among the business community with active involvement of the business leaders, and capacity development of public health labs to test food items for adulteration on the spot are needed. The consumer rights groups should be more vocal and play active role in developing a mass campaign/movement in the country  

Safe and unadulterated food is out human right!...Let’s work together to achieve this.

For more:
Hossain et al. (2008). Consumption of foods and foodstuffs processed with hazardous chemicals: a case study of Bangladesh. International Journal of Consumer Studies 32: 588–595.

Huda et al. (2009). An enquiry into the perception on food quality among urban people: a case of Bangladesh. African Journal of Business management 3: 227-232.


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