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Scientific tests before action

Superstore owners in Bangladesh urge government the government
Clockwise, closed outlets of Agora, Meena Bazaar, Nandan and Swapno in the capital. Bangladesh Supermarket Owners Association kept all their outlets across the country closed yesterday protesting “harassment through implementation of a discriminatory policy and misuse of law”. Photo: Palash Khan

Superstore owners yesterday urged the government to scientifically test any product from their shelves before taking action based on allegations of selling substandard or adulterated foods.

“We have no objection if the government takes action based on scientific examinations at the reputed laboratories,” said Md Zakir Hossain, general secretary of the Bangladesh Supermarket Owners Association.

The association held a press conference at Spectra Convention Centre in the capital, pressing home to stop “misuse of law and harassment” in the name of ensuring safe food, as operators of nearly 100 superstores kept their outlets shut in protest yesterday. 

The move came after a mobile court last week fined Agora, Meena Bazar and fast food chain Coopers on charges of keeping expired and stale food items at their shops in the capital's Shantinagar.

The mobile court of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority under the food ministry sentenced Agora's Shantinagar branch manager Monirul Islam to two years' imprisonment, according to a food ministry press release.

It also fined the manager of the Agora outlet Tk 2 lakh and the in-charge of Meena Bazar and manager of Coopers Tk 3 lakh each on the same charges.

Zakir said all superstores would remain open today.

The association claimed that supermarkets had introduced various scientific methods in the country to supply and preserve quality food.

“When supermarkets are playing a visible role in ensuring safe food, mobile courts with the help of police, Rab [Rapid Action Battalion] and media outlets have been conducting raids repeatedly. And we are being fined based on the results of tests carried out unscientifically.

“It appears that the supermarkets are being targeted,” Zakir said while reading out a written statement at the conference.

A wrong message is being sent out through these raids that the objective of these stores is to sell rotten or adulterated products.

“It should be understood that the companies that have invested a lot in building infrastructures and branding will not do anything willfully, which leads to losing customer confidence,” the association said in the statement.

It is not possible to ensure safe food without effective steps to prevent adulteration in the production and supply chains, according to the association of 32 superstore operators.

Supermarkets can easily be a partner in safe food movement but instead they have been made opponents unnecessarily, it said.

The association added that it wanted the government to recognise the investments made in the last one and a half decades in expanding superstore businesses.

At present, some 120 outlets are open in the country; most of them are in the capital. Shwapno, Agora and Meena Bazar are the main superstore operators, according to the association.