Rampant adulteration still a havoc | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 09, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 09, 2011

Bitter Truth

Rampant adulteration still a havoc


Adulteration runs
rampant in the country. Dangers lurk in every food items. From vegetables, fish, milk, fruit, sweetmeats, ice cream, to spices, nothing is safe. Packaged and bottled drinks, both locally produced and imported, with harmful ingredients and chemicals are being sold in the market.
Many of the dry food items available in the market are being produced in bewildering unhygienic locations. Oblivious of the dangers lurking in the everyday food items, parents now ask their children to eat foods that contain vitamins, iron and calcium.
With institutional corruption ingrained in every level of our society and societal protest and government action totally missing, unscrupulous traders and fake factory owners are resorting to unethical activities through adding toxics in food items.
In advanced countries, there is a strong monitoring system. Traders there can't 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 this grave health hazard.
Sensible citizens shudder to think about the enormous price the nation may have to pay
in the long run. The report made public by Institute of Public Health is really worrisome. Terming the food adulteration as a major health problem, the report says that unsafe foods pose a serious threat to health. People are alarmed to learn that a large number of businessmen, simply out of greed, are involved in the production of these adulterated foods.
These unscrupulous businessmen use toxic chemicals like formalin, and another recently introduced chemical ethofen and textile dyes in preserving fruits, milk and fish. In most of the mobile court drives, only the manager and employees of the fake factories get
caught, but the real culprits, the factory owners or traders remain far away from the clutches of law enforcement agency due to high connections with these people.
Despite the fact that use of calcium carbide has been banned internationally for ripening
fruit, the dirty practice goes unabated in our country. Consumers might be infected with diarrhea, skin diseases, and high blood pressure as they continue to eat fruits ripened by carbide, leading to liver and kidney diseases if taken in longer.
Food adulteration in the country has assumed alarming proportions. Experts in medical biology point out that consumption of adulterated food affects people with kidney dysfunction, diabetes and cardiac problems. They further 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 properly trained in the use of chemical fertilisers. Absence of effluent treatment plants on one hand (ETP) and lack of training of the farmers, the factory wastes, fertiliser and pesticide residues are drained out at will into the farmlands, ultimately contaminating the farm at large.
A study by the Institute of Public health revealed that more than 50% food samples including water which they had tested were adulterated. According to D.G., BSTI the
production of contaminated drinking water has been increasing in the country.
BSTI revealed that about 1,000 drinking water factories exist in the country, only 400 of which have licenses from the BSTI. Bottlers of drinking water factories have mushroomed with little regard to compliance of standard or BSTI license.
Despite BSTI cancelling the licenses of 139 bottling factories in the last 18 months, there has been no news in setting up new factories in new locations. The result: Children and aged people are facing constant threat of diseases even with the bottled water produced by these factories.
Textile dyes are being randomly used to colour sweetmeats like kalojam, chamcam, pantua cakes and pastries. Urea fertiliser is used for whitening puffed rice. A section
of factory owners, through use of other low quality oil and mustard colour, continue to market mustard oil. Sadly, in most cases they are using allyl isothiocyanate to give off a mustard oil extra bite.
When the import of soyabean oil becomes uncertain or the price shoots up globally, the local market manipulators resort to dishonest means. Unscrupulous millers resort to mixing soyabean oil with poor quality palm oil or super oil.
In the domain of fruits and vegetables there prevails a total anarchy. Gullible consumers are buying fruits, locally produced or imported, from malls not realising what they are bargaining for.
Many people in the country have stopped buying fruits, especially mangoes from the city markets after watching the destruction of formalin and ethofen-laced mangoes and grapes by the mobile courts on TV.
Papya and bananas are artificially ripened by chemicals like ethylene oxide and formalin. Experts in medical biology point out that ethylene oxide is carcinogenic and when used over food might invite a disaster. The key findings of the EPA study group suggest that many children may develop cancer sometime during their lifetime as a result of the pesticide or toxic-laden products they consume.
The test conducted by BSTI-run mobile courts on fruit samples like mango, banana, lichis and jackfruit collected from Badamtali, Amin bazaar and Karwan bazar show the presence of formalin and ethofen, which in the short term will cause diarrhea, food poisoning and gastrointestinal disorder but in the long-term will accumulate to serious health implications.
Fish is considered an essential protein for people of all categories and ages. Many fish sellers spray fish with formalin (formaldehyde gas mixed with methyl alcohol), an organic chemical, usually used for preserving tissues. It makes the fish appear stiff and fresh for a longer period of time. Regular intake of such adulterated fish and vegetables might cause cancer.
The month of Ramadan will bring more such woes for Muslims because of the excessive fried items sold for a month. A section of restaurant owners use refined engine oil to fry chickens, kabab, peaju and potato crisps.
Engine oil used as cooking ingredient makes food tasty, claim a section of the restaurant
owners. Defying health department regulations, many restaurant owners and street vendors use leftover cooking oil. This increases the peroxide limit of the oil, turning it toxic.
The NRDC report goes on to charge that the governments of the countries surveyed are failing to adequately protect the youngsters from such dangers. Given the fact that children are consuming toxic food, they are likely to be more vulnerable than adults. Their organs may not be as efficient in removing toxic chemicals.
In Bangladesh, we have allowed both pollution and food contamination to run riot. No agency other than BSTI has conducted any examination of the pesticide-residue levels or toxic chemicals in the food market.
With a totally inefficient monitoring system, just having tough laws is not enough to keep unscrupulous traders from tampering with food items.
BSTI sources revealed that it conducted 1,039 mobile courts across the country in seven months from July last year to February this year and detected rampant malpractice and adulteration in the food production centres.
Some Tk.23.8 million were realised as fine during the drives while 1,086 cases were filed and 66 people were sent to jail. According to DG, BSTI, adulteration problem could be controlled easily if the DCC performed its job properly. The DCC is supposed to do so instead of BSTI.. DCC have their own magistrates while BSTI has to hire magistrates from the district administration.
Despite the Pure Food Ordinance 2005, there was hardly any effort to enforce it. Even when the country's apex court issued orders again in 2009 for setting up food court and one food testing centre in every district, no effort was taken to implement it.
With 50million people in the country known to be afflicted with complicated diseases by taking adulterated food, the administration has got to be scary. Given the political will, it is not very difficult to control this nefarious business by a handful of traders out to kill people slowly through poison; simply for minting money.
God forbid! What will happen if one of their near relations get affected with some deadly diseases by taking such adulterated food?

The writer is a former teacher of physics and Controller of Examinations, BUET.
E-mail: aukhandk@gmail.com

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