Things that make you to Think
The Stark Realizations of Food Adulteration
Friday is the only holiday in the week for Robiul Ahsan – a service holder at a private local firm, who is a resident of Mohammadpur. Every day he gets up very early in the morning and goes to the kacha bazaar (kitchen market) to buy some fresh vegetables. This reporter found him at Hemayetpur kacha bazaar; not very far from the centre of Dhaka city. To collect fresh vegetables, he prefers to go Hemayetpur rather than the markets of Dhaka city. He said, “I do not rely on the markets inside the city as many harmful chemicals like formalin are widespread in every fruits and vegetables. Thus I am coming here for the last two months as I think the products here come from the nearest villages and are free from harmful chemicals.”
“I am clueless about what is happening actually in other places, for example, the taste of a tomato feels like chewing cardboard to me. The colours of the bananas seem like they are artificially coloured; if you keep two bananas or tomatoes where one is chemically tampered and the other is not – it is very difficult to spot the one with the added preservatives,” he shares his confusion over the right choice of worthy food. Most of the people in the several kacha bazaars of Dhaka city are found to be perplexed in this food conundrum. Altaf Ali, who is a banker, said, “The most disappointing fact is that we have nothing to do. Few years ago, my younger brother died from cancer. We had nothing to do. I learnt from the doctors back then that lack of pure, fresh and chemical free food is a major cause for such life threatening disease.” “From then on, I have prepared myself mentally that I will not be surprised if I get cancer someday,” he added as he left the bazaar at Mogbazaar, with some carrots, tomatoes and green potherbs.
“We pay considerable sums of money for fresh fruits and vegetables, but in return we are getting contaminated products. These days we are more conscious about food adulteration that is now an open secret” said some people at the bazaar.
However, another alarming fact is that the process of food adulteration starts from the very beginning of its cultivation. According to experts, during the cultivation period, vegetable farmers use different kinds of pesticides and herbicides – to bring a fresh and colourful look in the products.
“Only law enforcement forces cannot prevent food adulteration. For this to work, both consumers and businessmen need to be conscious too. Consumers should buy food with circumspect,” said Commerce Minister Ghulam Muhammed Quader at a programme announcing Gulshan-North as a formalin free market and handed over a Formal D Hydro machine to the market authorities on 16 November.
“Announcing a market as formalin free and providing a Formal D Hydro machine should not be the end of all actions; the use of this machine should be ensured properly. This machine must be used whenever a consumer asks to check for formalin presence in the products,” he further added.
“Awareness needs to be created first among the businessmen – both retailers and wholesalers and the government should take it seriously for the sake of the young generation,” said Mizanur Rahman, a recent graduate from Dhaka University.
While talking to Syed Abdul Hamid; Associate Professor at Institute of Health Economics of Dhaka University, he said that different chemicals are widely used for preserving vegetables, fruits, juice, fish and other raw components. “While many chemicals are used in other countries as well, they are within the safe limit for preserving foods, however, the levels of chemicals used in Bangladesh are well above that limit.”, he added.
He further added, “It is also expected that most of the energy drinks available in the market are a direct route to narcotics. The long term impact of consuming such chemicals through energy drinks may increase the incidence of deadly diseases like cancer, kidney failure etc. Treatment of these diseases are also far too expensive for many people of the society to afford.”
Having formalin contaminated food will be a serious threat to the young generation when they are older, according to doctors. Moreover, it is also a great threat to new born babies. “The young generation is the backbone of any country. It is observable that the rate of incidence of these illnesses are also increasing among the young generation. If this state continues: there will be a severe negative impact on the future labour force. Thus, the economy may be severely affected within the next two or three decades due to expenditure of huge amounts of money required for treating these illnesses” said Hamid.
“A significant proportion of the young generation may perish at the age of 25-30 if we cannot prevent food adulteration immediately. There is a significant portion of young generation in the demographics of Bangladesh. If a significant proportion of these young people become sick or physically unfit, Bangladesh will lose most of its potential,” Hamid added.
On the other hand, the high court on 21 November issued an order which includes issues such as prevention of formalin in food, and provision of chemical testing machines in markets where interested consumers will be given the opportunity to examine chemical test results of fruits and vegetables directly. The high court issued this order against a writ appeal from the bench of justices Mirja Hossain Haidar and Kazi Md. Izarul Haque. In addition, the court also ordered to prevent the excessive use of formalin and chemical induced foods. The court said that after the assessment, only food which are safe and worthy to eat will enter the market, and also before that it should be ensured by the authorities that the imported foods are free from formalin and any other unsafe chemicals. Besides, to examine formalin levels in food, necessary machines should be provided in the city corporation markets within the next 30 days. “First of all, people should be aware. Our people are still highly ignorant about food adulteration. Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB) needs to be much more proactive and voice rigorous concerns relating to this issue. Media is playing its role as usual. But still, a more active role needs to be played by both the print and electronic media in this regard.
The government should reform the organisations related to the quality control of food and drinks. The current structure as well as manpower is not sufficient to prevent the massive volume of food adulteration. It is also important to enact strict laws and ensure their proper implementation. Moreover, the government may also restrict the import of chemicals used for food adulteration,” Hamid concludes.