Setting food standards key
With the Safe Food Act 2013 coming into effect on Sunday, fixing the standards of food items is likely to be the greatest challenge in effectively enforcing the much-demanded law.
Experts said the standards have to be set as soon as possible in order to avoid a recurrence of the confusion that rose over the permissible limits of additives in food during the government's anti-adulteration drives last year.
And the task won't be an easy one, they told The Daily Star when it contacted them following Food Minister Qamrul Islam's announcement of introducing the act from February 1.
At a press conference at his ministry, Qamrul said a five-member Safe Food Authority (SFA) has already been formed with the food minister at its helm in accordance with the new law. The SFA would now work to set the food safety standards.
A 30-member National Safe Food Management Advisory Council and a 28-member Central Safe Food Management Coordination Committee will also be formed under the law.
Separate courts for trying food adulteration cases were being set up and steps would be taken that mobile courts can conduct drives against the food contaminators, the minister added.
The law has a provision of one to five years' jail term or Tk 4-20 lakh fine for violation of food safety standards.
Now determining these standards will be a major test for the government, think food safety specialists.
Professor Dr Nilufar Nahar of Chemistry Department at Dhaka University said the standards have to be in line with the Codex Alimentarius [Book of Food], a collection of internationally recognised standards, codes of practice and guidelines relating to foods, food production and food safety.
For this, the SFA would need to go through extensive consultations with experts and have appropriate equipment, she said.
An expert from the Institute of Public Health said different government institutions have different opinions on food standards. This hampered food safety efforts in the past and may do the same in future as well.
This issue came to the fore last year when the government was conducting anti-adulteration drives using a formalin detection kit, which was later found unfit for the job. Also, there were no safety standards fixed by an appropriate authority.
Requesting anonymity, the IPH expert said the SFA has to engage scientists in setting a set of food safety standards acceptable for all.
Dr Md Khalequzzaman, assistant professor of public health and informatics at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, suggested the authorities work on raising public awareness on safe food and food preservation.
"This is a crucial issue that often remains ignored. But we need to work on it now.”