The toxic truth about the food we consume | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 18, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:00 PM, July 18, 2019

The toxic truth about the food we consume

The ongoing fiasco surrounding the quality of milk should alert us all. Media reports since the beginning of this year have revealed just how adulterated the milk we are regularly consuming is: antibiotics, detergent, bacteria, and even lead have been found in milk being sold in the market.

Professor ABM Faroque, former director of Dhaka University’s Biomedical Research Centre, revealed the findings of a recent study whereby traces of antibiotics were found in all 10 samples of pasteurised milk. Professor Faroque, unsurprisingly, reportedly faced criticism and harassment at the hands of some officials of the milk processing companies as well as bureaucrats. His fault? Making public his research findings. Dhaka University denied responsibility of the concerned research study and Professor Faroque was warned of legal action for violating research protocol. By questioning Professor Faroque’s methodologies and the standards of the laboratories used, BSTI director criticised his work as well as the study for not revealing the levels of antibiotics found. But thankfully, a number of groups and professors have come forward and lent support to Professor Faroque.

Sometimes antibiotics are used in farms to cure mastitis infections in the animals, which results in antibiotic residues in milk. Needless to say, this milk is not fit for human consumption. Again, such consumption of antibiotics (without doctors’ guidance) can make a body bacteria-resistant, which can be fatal.

A certain post that went viral on Facebook goes to show the severity of the situation. A four-day-old infant died because the baby was resistant to 10 antibiotics out of the 12 antibiotics tested. A study on infants in one tertiary-care hospital in New Delhi shows that 52 percent of infants are resistant to the bacteria called “Klebsiella pneumoniae” (bacterial pneumonia). Not only in India, according to a study conducted by Poribesh Bachao Andolon (POBA) in 2016, about 56 percent of antibiotics prescribed to patients in Dhaka hardly worked, as germs developed antibiotic resistance because of the indiscriminate usage of antibiotics.

Antibiotics consumption in animals is a worldwide trend. According to a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report, “In 2016, it is estimated that 43 percent of the domestic sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials was intended for use in cattle, 37 percent intended for use in swine, 9 percent intended for use in turkeys, 6 percent intended for use in chickens, and 4 percent intended for use in other species/unknown.” Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread from animals to humans via food.

Research studies found heavy metal contamination in poultry feed in Bangladesh. These metals may lead to problems in the gastrointestinal system, nervous system, or cardiovascular system. Apart from that, the banning of food products before Ramadan also indicates the severity of the situation and goes to show that it is high time to take steps to implement rules and regulations related to food safety.

The research study conducted by Professor Faroque portrays the horrible state of food safety in the country. The authorities need to begin doing their job properly. They must do their part to stop the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and poultry farms. Government officials, instead of criticising those who bring to light the harmful substances present in our food, should collaborate in research studies being conducted in universities and should dig deeper into the situation. The government needs to invest in manpower and training so that we can build a strong food management industry and should create awareness-building programmes so that people get to know about the wide use of antibiotics in farms. The government should also take steps to ban the sale of antibiotics for use by cattle without prescription from a veterinary doctor, on which the High Court issued an order on July 16.

BSTI should rethink the way it carries out its tests. No efforts should be spared in ensuring proper tests which include taking into account the appropriate parameters.

Antibiotic resistance has become a global problem. It was the eminent bacteriologist Sir Alexander Fleming who had warned us about the creation of superbugs from the misuse of antibiotics in his famous speech upon accepting the Nobel Prize in 1945: “There is the danger that the ignorant man may easily underdose himself, and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant.”

We clearly failed to heed his words.

Sakib Rahman Siddique Shuvo is a student in the Department of Geography and Environment, Jahangirnagar University.

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