Pran nonchalant, govt silent
Despite detection of excessive lead in Pran's turmeric powder and recalls by stores in the US, the company and the government seem little concerned about acting to ensure health safety of lakhs of local consumers.
Pran yesterday reiterated that it would not recall its turmeric powder from the home market. The food processor and exporter continues to claim that it has recently tested samples of the spice from the local market and is "over sure that it contains no lead".
The government for its part is moving slow. The only known government action, taken by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI), is the issuance of a letter to Pran, seeking explanation on the matter.
And it is so despite multiple tests in the US have found high level of lead, ranging from 28ppm to 53ppm, in Pran's turmeric powder.
The permissible limit of lead in the product in the US could not be immediately known, but it is 2.5ppm in Bangladesh.
The limit may vary from country to country but it cannot exceed 2.5ppm in any country, according to a top BSTI official.
Since October 3, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US posted several press releases on its website about the detection of high level of lead in the Pran product and the subsequent recalls by four US stores in New York, Dallas and Detroit.
The FDA also warned consumers not to consume the product of certain batches because of health risks.
Contacted, Food Minister Muhammad Abdur Razzaque just said: "It is a matter of concern for us. We will look into it."
Commerce Minister Ghulam Mohammed Quader was not available on the phone for comments.
Asked what action the commerce ministry had taken to protect consumer safety and rights, its Secretary Mahbub Ahmed said none.
"We cannot take any action on our own without receiving any complaints from consumers," he added.
Mahbub said he learned about the matter from newspapers and was unaware of FDA's press releases.
Asked if the ministry would ask the company to recall its turmeric powder from the domestic market, he said: "How can we take action without a detailed analysis? We cannot take action based on newspaper reports.
"We are looking into the matter with due importance."
Approached, BSTI Director General Iqramul Haque said the agency sought explanation from Pran over the excessive lead in its turmeric powder.
It, however, did not give any time limit for the company to turn in the explanation.
"We have tested samples from the local market and have not found any lead in that turmeric powder," he said yesterday, adding that the test was done early this month.
Asked how then the US authorities found such high level of lead, he said: "We do not know which sample of turmeric powder the company has exported. So, we have asked the company why the products tested in the US were found to have lead."
He said the BSTI conducted its test through machines and there was no scope for manipulation.
He added the BSTI would take further action after receiving Pran's explanation. "We cannot ask for recalling a product. We will cancel its certificate if lead is found."
One industry insider, however, says in some cases companies provide "special samples" to the BSTI for tests. These samples are "specially made".
Talking to The Daily Star, Pran Director (marketing) Kamruzzaman Kamal yesterday said his company had no plan to recall its turmeric powder.
"We have done the testing by collecting samples randomly from the market. We are cent percent sure that there is no lead in our product. So, we are not going to recall our product from the domestic market."
He claimed the last test was done on October 10 at Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) where no lead was found.
He also claimed Pran exported more spices than it sold in the local market. But when pressed for the breakdown, he could not give any.
About sending its clarification to the BSTI, he said he was yet to receive the letter.
Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, general secretary of Consumers Association of Bangladesh, feared that the presence of lead in the locally marketed turmeric powder might be higher than those found in the US.
"It should also be withdrawn from our market for consumer safety. We urge the commerce ministry to act immediately in this regard," he added.