A recent study conducted by researchers at Dhaka University has revealed some shocking findings: detergent and antibiotics for humans in packaged milk. The DU study also detected a long list of health hazards, including textile colourant in turmeric powder.
However, in a confusing development, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) submitted a report to the High Court recently saying its tests did not detect any harmful substance in pasteurised milk of 14 brands. This is only less than two months after the BSTI itself released a report which found 52 food items to be substandard out of 406 food items in 27 categories that it tested. Such contradictory findings will only create doubt in the minds of the general public. In the most recent case, the BSTI should make it clear what its test criteria were and the milk produced by the same brands should be re-tested independently. There is clearly a need to put in place a mechanism of double-checking.
It is a travesty that the administration has failed to ensure something as basic as food safety, raising serious concerns about public health in the country. Last month, the BSTI, Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA), and the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) failed to withdraw immediately the substandard products from the market despite a HC order. Government bodies have, for too long, turned a blind eye to the corrupt practices in the food industry which continues to prioritise profit at the expense of public health. The result of this longstanding attitude of neglect is this: malpractices in the industry have spread so far and so deep that the job of rooting out corruption has become extremely challenging for the government.
Independent research has consistently found health hazards in basic food items, including staples such as poultry and milk, which is almost unheard of in any country. Countrywide drives should be launched and the government must equip the BSTI, BFSA and relevant bodies with adequate manpower and resources so that corrupt manufacturers and producers can be identified and held to account. Fines are not enough—legal action must be taken against them. These government bodies can no longer shirk their responsibility.