Food safety is about handling, storing and preparing food to prevent infection and help to make sure that our food keeps enough nutrients for us to have a healthy diet. Unsafe food and water means that it has been exposed to dirt and germs which can cause infections and diseases such as diarrhoea, meningitis, etc.
Food safety threats in Bangladesh are arsenic in food, adulterated food, genetically modified food, environment pollutants in food, human-induced food adulteration during farm production, industrial production, marketing, and street food vending. Numerous food processors are producing, processing and preparing foodstuffs in serious unhygienic environments. Food adulteration is a growing problem in Bangladesh as large numbers of consumers have become victims of consuming adulterated foods. The newspapers have out and out conferred it, as the ‘silent killer’. Genetically modified foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material (DNA) has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism.
Article 15 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh states that it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the state to secure to the citizens provision of the basic necessities of life including food. Article 18 of the Constitution states that the State shall raise the level of nutrition and improve public health as its primary duties.At present there are several laws to regulate safe food delivery to the consumers. These laws are: Penal Code, 1860 (‘PC 1860’), Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956 (‘CECA 1956’), Food (Special Courts) Act, 1956 (‘FA 1956’), Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 (‘PFO 1959’), Cantonments Pure Food Act, 1966 (‘CPFA 1966’), Pesticide Ordinance, 1971 (‘PO 1971’), Special Powers Act, 1974 (‘SPA 1974’), Fish and Fish Products (Inspection and Control), Ordinance, 1983 (‘FFPO 1983’), The Breast-Milk Substitutes (Regulation of Marketing) Ordinance, 1984 (‘BMSO 1984’), Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution Ordinance 1985 (‘BSTIO 1985’), Iodine Deficiency Disorders Prevention Act 1989 (‘IDDPA 1989’), Consumers Rights Protection Act 2009, Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009, Local Government (Paurashava) Act, 2009, Mobile Court Act, 2009.
The Food Safety Act 2013 has also been enacted in Bangladesh through repealing and re-enacting the existing outdated laws in this regards. This 2013 Act has been enacted to form an authority that would ensure generous efforts to the food control agencies, food business operators and people of the country towards achieving the landmark goal of founding a Modern and Technological Food Safety System in Bangladesh as required for the government’s vision 2021. Accordingly under the 2013 Act, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has been formed in 2015.
However, the existing food safety legal and regulatory regime of Bangladesh is governed by copious enactments and governmental bodies. More than dozen of laws deal with the food safety affairs excluding the common law provisions. These laws are implemented by several ministries and their subordinate bodies. The relevant key bodies are the Parliament, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives, Ministry of Industry, Ministry of Fisheries and Livestock, Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Establishment and Ministry of Home Affairs. Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution, the only National Standards body of Bangladesh, is entrusted with the responsibility of formulation of national Standards of industrial, food and chemical products keeping in view the regional and international standards. The Institution so formed has become member of the International Organisation for standardisation (ISO) in 1974.
Unfortunately the present system of prevention of food adulteration cannot curb the evil activities of various types of common adulteration and malpractices openly seen in Bangladesh because there is no surveillance programme for prevention of food adulteration. Occasionally the Magistrate vested with power and the food inspectors suddenly raid on food shops, food preparation yards, food workshops, manufacturing plants to catch red-handed the unscrupulous food traders with adulterated foods. Anybody found to do this malpractice is given moderate punishment by the mobile court. Adulteration of food articles has been marked as an offence under the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959. But everyone has the right to get pure food. Unfortunately because of greedy traders it has become almost impossible. Ironically, people from all walks of life is aware of the hazards of taking foods adulterated with toxic chemicals, but this knowledge is not translated into practice.
Adulteration of food articles has been marked as an offence under the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 providing minor penalties of different kinds. Taking advantage of such minor penalties the unscrupulous traders have started masking the poor quality and begun activities of mixing injurious materials in almost every food articles like fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, flour etc. As a result an amendment of the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 has become necessary to be replaced by the Bangladesh Pure Food (Amendment) Act, 2005, giving a widening definition of adulteration and the scope of the law and also enhancing the punishment of the offences.
It is commonly accepted that a proper and effective regulatory framework should be based on transparency and accountability. This is because regulatory transparency engages the whole of a country’s governance infrastructure. A regulatory body should be transparent both externally and internally. The PFO 1959 does not include any provision regarding the decisions making of the National Food Safety Advisory Council. Regulatory bodies under the Food Safety Regulatory Regime of Bangladesh are terribly bureaucratic. For instance, section 18 of the CRPA 2009 has established the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection (DNCRP) to administer the functions of this statute. But section 71 of the CRPA 2009 stipulates that an aggrieved person needs to obtain permission from the DNCRP to sue against the culprit. This unnecessary bureaucracy has ultimately made such an important consumer protection law ineffective.
To ensure consumer rights effectively in Bangladesh it is necessary to establish a separate consumer court to deal with cases of violation of consumers’ rights. Empowering the consumer is also important so that the aggrieved consumers can individually sue against the violators. Civil society and media people should come forward to create awareness about the rights of consumer. Last but not the least leaders and distinguished persons of the society should participate in the campaign to increase the awareness of the consumer and alert the government.