The High Court yesterday directed the government to immediately stop import, distribution and sale of fruits, groceries and other food items treated with formalin, carbide or any poisonous chemicals.
Responding to a writ petition, it also ordered the authorities concerned to supply all sea and land ports and the markets under the city corporations with testing kits within a month so that any food item can be checked before they are allowed into the country or sold.
Meanwhile, the commerce minister told parliament that existing laws having provisions for punishment up to death penalty or life imprisonment could prevent food adulteration if those were enforced.
The city corporations would be obliged to examine the food items people bring to them to check the purity, the court said, adding the authorities would also have to distribute testing devices in other markets of the country in phases.
The court asked the secretary to the information ministry to take steps in 15 days to raise mass awareness through media campaigns about the hazardous effects of consuming adulterated foods.
The government authorities in the HC rule were asked to comply with the orders and submit a report by January 7 next year.
Besides, the HC sought an explanation as to why import, distribution and sale of food items treated with harmful chemicals should not be declared illegal.
M Helal Uddin, a director of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, filed the petition on Monday, seeking HC directives on the government to stop the unlawful deeds.
Unscrupulous traders at wholesale and kitchen markets prefer to add harmful chemicals like formalin to food items for preservation and use carbide for ripening fruits, Helal said in the petition, adding consumption of such foods inflicts serious harm on human body.
AM Amin Uddin and Iqbal Kabir Lytton appeared for the petitioner, while Deputy Attorney General Al Amin Sarker represented the government.
EXISTING LAWS CAN STOP FOOD ADULTERATION
Commerce Minister GM Quader yesterday said the departments concerned could prevent food adulteration through actions in line with the existing laws that already provide for stern punishment, including death penalty.
Replying to lawmakers' queries, he told parliament that there was no need for a fresh law in this regard.
Under the Special Powers Act 1974, a person shall be sentenced to death, or imprisonment for life, or rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 14 years, and shall also be liable to a fine for adulteration of, or sale of adulterated food, drink, drugs or cosmetics, added the minister.
The Pure Food Ordinance 1959 has also provisions for stern punishment for such offences, he said.
Under the Consumer Rights Protection Act 2009, Quader said, a person might be jailed for three years and fined Tk 2 lakh for selling adulterated food.
The national consumers' rights protection directorate has been operating countrywide drives against food adulteration, he said, adding such drives would be intensified further.