Slow poisoning continues unabated | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 14, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 14, 2010

Slow poisoning continues unabated

How safe is the stuff? Can safety remain ensured after they leave?

FOOD adulteration runs rampant in the country. From vegetables, fish, milk, drinks, sweetmeats, ice cream to spices, nothing is safe. Oblivious of the dangers lurking in everyday food items, parents are asking their children to eat foods containing vitamins, iron and calcium.
With institutional corruption deeply ingrained in every level of lour society and societal protest and government action totally missing, unscrupulous traders and fake factory owners are resorting to dishonest and unethical activities through adding harmful and toxic substances in food items.
Dangers lurk in almost every item of food. A report released by the National Resources Defence Council (NRDC), an environmental group based in New York, suggests that farm produce sold in the supermarkets and groceries may contain so much pesticide that they pose a serious health hazard to the nation's children.
In advanced countries, there is strong monitoring system. Traders there can't sell contaminated food or tamper with food items. As long as consumers consider food adulteration a minor problem and the government plays down its impact on the health system of the nation, there is no escaping the grave health hazard. Sensible citizens shudder to think about the enormous price the nation may have to pay in the long run.
Food adulteration in Bangladesh has assumed alarming proportions. Experts in medical biology point out that one of the important reasons for infertility is the presence of residues of pesticides, growth hormones, heavy metals and mycotoxins in our food. The main reason for this is that our farmers are not appropriately educated or trained in the use of chemicals.
A study by the Institute of Public Health (IPH) revealed that more than 50% of the food samples they tested were adulterated. Textile dyes, which are highly injurious to health, are being randomly used to colour many types of food. Urea fertilizer is used for whitening puffed rice. Cyanide is used to give mustard oil extra bite. Papaya and bananas are artificially ripened by a carcinogenic chemical called ethylene oxide.
Fish is considered to be an essential protein for people of all ages. Many fish sellers spray fish with formalin, a chemical usually used for preservation of tissues. It makes the fish stiff and keeps them looking fresh for longer. Milk in rural areas is usually adulterated with dirty water, which can cause hepatitis. People have now come to know about a new milk adulteration technique that uses a thickening agent, sorbitol, and detergent.
One way to avoid tainted fruits is by not eating fruits that are out of season because chemicals are used to preserve them during the off-season. Vegetable and fruit samples collected from around Savar, Dhamrai and Tongi show the presence of textile dyes, which, in the short-term, will cause diarrhea, food poisoning and gastrointestinal problems, but in the long-term toxic materials will accumulate in the body with serious health implications. In the absence of effluent treatment plants (ETP), the factory wastes are drained out at will into the farmlands, and ultimately contaminate the farm produce.
The month of Ramadan will bring woes for the rozadars because of the unscrupulous restaurant owners and vendors who sell fried items. Cooking oil that is used to deep fry iftar items like peaju, alur chop, lkabab should not be used for the second time, but many restaurants recycle the burnt oil, which severely affects the digestive system.
The key findings of the EPA study group suggest that many children may develop cancer sometime during their life as a result of the pesticide-contaminated produce they consume. Daminozide, a chemical that penetrates through the fruit's skin, is the greatest cancer hazard.
The NRDC report goes on to charge that the governments of the countries surveyed are failing to adequately protect youngsters from such dangers. Given the fact that children are consuming pesticide-laden or toxic food, they are likely to be more vulnerable than adults. Their body cells are rapidly dividing and organs like the liver and kidney may not be as efficient in removing toxic chemicals.
Most encouragingly, baby food companies in the US have already got the message. Gerber and Beech-nut, for example do not use Daminozide-treated fruits in their products, and pesticide-residues on the crops they accept for processing into baby foods are much lower than federal limits. This only speaks of the concern the environmental groups and the federal government share on the safety limits.
In our country we have allowed things like pollution and food contamination to run riot. Till now, no agency, either under the health ministry or the ministry of science and technology or the ministry of industries, has conducted any examination of the pesticide- residue levels or toxic chemicals in the foodstuff being marketed.
In the backdrop of reports of raid and seizure of fake and adulterated food items pouring in everyday, people wonder whether what they are eating is food or poison. With a totally inefficient monitoring system, just having tough laws is hardly enough to keep unscrupulous traders from tampering with food items.
Encouragingly, the D.G. BSTI revealed that, in the current year, it had conducted countrywide drives against fake and adulterated food through operation of mobile courts, instituted 1,822 criminal cases, and realised over Tk. 4 crore as fine. But realisation of fine has not helped to curb this criminal offence. The government can't allow a handful of unscrupulous traders to play with the lives of the citizens, especially the children, and get away with impunity.
Md. Asadullah Khan is a former teacher of physics and Controller of Examinations, BUET. e-mail

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