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    Volume 10 |Issue 06 | February 11, 2011 |


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What's on your Plate?

Farhana Urmee

An apple a day keeps the doctor away'--this well-known and immemorial saying is inspiring enough to make anyone add some fruit in his or her daily menu. Taking home from the market, one usually keeps apples or other fruit in the refrigerator to keep its freshness intact. Interestingly, apples nowadays, if they are kept out of the fridge even for 15 days, appear as if is fresh. The word 'rotten' is almost nonexistent from the world of fruit and food. This is thanks to some new inventions in the world of science that have introduced humankind to a number of chemicals which are used to keep fruit fresh, and look ripe-- all artificially.

Chemicals such as Calcium Carbide are used to ripen fruits artificially in their premature stage. Not only in the case of fruits, a number of chemicals are also used in different ranges of food to make them appealing to the consumers. The question is, the food we take regularly how much food value do they have? Or how are they making us sick because of the harmful chemicals that they carry?

Food adulteration is done in different ways by the wholesalers to make more profit. Mobile courts are conducting drives to fine or punish the people responsible for food adulteration. Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) is also at work to put certification marks on the manufactured food. Organisations like Consumers Association Bangladesh (CAB) are also trying to create awareness among the consumers regarding the food that they take regularly only trusting the labels on the packages. Yet, consumers are not safe from the harmful chemicals that they take as food.

Looks can be deceiving: Beware of fruit adulteration. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

From packaged food to fruit and vegetables, from sweetmeat to fish, whatever your choice is, harmful chemicals are added either to make the food attractive, or to add colour or a specified flavour. Textile dyes, soap ingredients, even materials like brick dust or chips are added to different ranges of food.

Consumer goods like red chilli, which is a must for making curries in every household may contain brick dust and pulses in it and another spice, like, turmeric has toxic powder colour and flour mixed in it. Salt has portions of white sand with less iodine. And the rice is mixed with urea fertilisers, and external colour is added to it. Greed to make a quick profit makes the wholesaler mix brick chips in the sacks of rice to make them heavier.

For those who want to include vegetable protein in the diet, the first choice will be pulses and unknowingly will be taking in some sort of chemical with the pulse as pulses are artificially coloured by some unscrupulous businessmen. Sweetmeats have low standard chhana, saccharine, sometimes known to have carcinogenic elements, instead of sugar. And honey that is available in the market is mostly sugar syrup. Tea has coloured sawdust, and fish has formalin to protect it from getting rotten.

Containing food adulteration: a challenge for the authority
and the government
Photos: Zahedul I Khan

Bottled coconut oil hardly has the real coconut oil; instead it is only soybean oil or palm oil with an artificial fragrance; Soybean oil has a huge proportion of palm oil in it, mustard oil is also has a good portion of unfiltered soybean oil with mustard essence. Ghee, which is loved by people only for its purity, has lost all its uniqueness and is nothing but vegetable or palm oil; often ghee is sprinkled with mashed potatoes, animal fat and soap. Substandard ingredients are used in most of the manufactured food items.

Dhaka University Professor of Pharmaceutical Technology ABM Faroque observes that the adulteration of food is a common phenomen world wide, still there is a level of tolerance to such crime. “In our country food adulteration is at an alarming state now, as it is evident from production of crops to processing; manufacturing packaged food to processing of the different ingredients. Harmful chemicals are being used in every level. And after taking such harmful chemicals, the human body is getting vulnerable to diseases like cardiac and kidney complications, diabetes and many more. Again, some chemicals are responsible for the reduction of immunity in the human body,” says Faroque.

Besides getting affected in terms of physical health, our economy also suffers due to the culture of food adulteration, as a mistrust is there among the consumers because of which they are becoming dependent on imported consumer goods, different foreign food items, and canned fruit etc. Farouque adds that, “Gradually our market is becoming a colony of foreign goods,” he also says, “The government has a huge responsibility in this regard, as only conducting drives through mobile courts and fining or punishing few immoral trader is not enough.” As we have a drug administration and its manpower has also been increased, this very administration's work can be extended to monitor food adulteration as well, which can be a cost effective and efficient measure in checking food adulteration, he continues.

Ready made and street foods contain insalubrious ingredients. Photos: Zahedul I Khan.

Referring to the practice of United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its working method of monitoring the use of harmful chemicals in drug and food, Faroque recommends establishment of such an organisation in Bangladesh. He says that the officers from Drug Administration who are already assigned in different regions in the country to monitor drug and its adulteration, beside their jobs, if these officers are assigned to monitor food adulteration practice in the respective regions, the problem of food adulteration hopefully will be easily resolved. Again, for the monitoring of the use of chemicals in food requires that same scientific instruments and laboratory that drug administration does and the drug administration already has such laboratories. What we need at this moment is an initiative and its strict implementation from the government's end to stop food adulteration, Faroque observes.

Only ensuring food security and be self sufficient in food is not enough, the government must take into account the issue of food safety, Faroque adds.

Ahmed Ekramullah Assistant Programme Coordinator of Consumers Association Bangladesh (CAB) says that the CAB is doing several researches on how food adulteration takes place and the level of its impact. Moreover, the CAB will launch a Food Safety Network in March 2011 to curb the menace. The network will have four organisations --CAB along with the BAPA, Be Safe Foundation, UBINIG, Bangladesh-- to build awareness against food adulteration, and to keep on monitoring and surveillance, advocacy and capacity building in this regard.

Ekramullah also recommends government's strict measures to punish people involved with food adulteration. Manufacturing industries using sub-standard ingredient, bluffing consumers by printing wrong information about ingredients and date of expiry of a particular food on its package must be taken to task by the law. Exemplary punishment can discourage the manufacturers and wholesalers from bluffing the consumers, he hopes.


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