Fear of the food we eat

Toriqul Islam | Update:

Abdus Salam bought a few apples from a shop near his house in the city’s Rampura area. He kept away one apple for a few months to see whether it had been treated by any chemical or not. Three months and a half month later, Salam wrote posted a Facebook status on 4 May: “the apple still looks fresh with no sign of rotting”.

Extremely humid conditions and scorching heat failed to harm the apple in over a hundred days!

Salam’s is one many people who do not know what kind of food they are buying from the market. Consumers find it hard to determine if the food items they buy are free from contamination and adulteration.

“We are really held hostage. Every day I purchase food, I feel scared about how safe these foods are and if these are any good for my family’s health?” Sumon Gazi told this correspondent at Gulshan’s DCC kitchen market.

The apprehension is not of his alone. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), food contamination and food adulteration in Bangladesh is now a matter of ‘serious public health concern’.

“Unsafe or contaminated food causes many acute and life-long diseases, ranging from diarrhoeal diseases to various forms of cancer,” the global body observed.

Also, WHO refers to data from the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), saying that diarrhoea is linked to food and water-borne causes in Bangladesh.

Widespread cheating

Samples of 36 food items which are commonly consumed during the month of Ramadan failed to meet the standards set by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI).

Formalin-free kitchen markets in recent years indicated the state of chemicals use in keeping perishable food items apparently fresh. Some other substances are used and methods applied also to attract customers.

Over a thousand business entities are identified as involved in unsafe food businesses every month. A total of 8,357 have been fined for producing and supplying unsafe foods in eight months of the 2017-18 financial year, according to government data. The previous year, the number of such organisations was 11,175.

“This kind of action could have improved the situation. But, the authorities are often helpless in taking any action against the big fish,” Syed Saiful Alam, an activist of Safe Food Movement, said adding that the situation has made the customers even more helpless.

Chairman of Food Safety Authority Mohammad Mahfuzul Hoque observed that most of small traders or those of the informal sector have in training of hygiene and safe foods.

Mistrust

The traders have lost customers’ confidence.

“Is it really free from adulteration? How can I trust you? Where do you produce this food?”

These are some of the questions Sohel has to face from customers of the organic food shop he opened on the Gulshan-Badda Link Road two months ago.

Sohel said he has become fed up of convincing people that “these products are really, really organic.”

‘Safe food possible’

Bangladesh has attained self-sufficiency in food production and availability of foods has been a major focus of the country’s policy of food security.

The issue of food safety or clean food has come to the fore in recent decades when food adulteration has also become a major public health concern.

Safe Food Authority chief Mahfuzul Hoque believes ‘safe food is possible’ as it has a demand in society.

“Though producing and supplying safe food is a huge challenge, it’s possible if we can create social awareness and wage a movement,” Mahfuzul Hoque told Prothom Alo recently.

Causes of diseases

“Adulteration of food is causes of 33 per cent of our diseases,” said Md Sahiduzzaman, professor of parasitology department, Bangladesh Agriculture University.

He added that contaminated food causes disease to 40 per cent of the children under five years of age.

The ‘food for all’ slogan will only gain real meaning if it has the underlying meaning of ‘uncontaminated food for all’.

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