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Food adulteration — A major threat to health and life

Published on 21st Mar, Edition 12, 2016

 

Pakistan needs to take food safety measures very much seriously

The Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said, “One who gives us adulterated goods is not from us.” He repeated this sentence thrice then said, “And Allah will remove barakat from the livelihood of the Muslim brothers. (Allah) will destroy his economy and leave him upon his own condition.”

Health is national wealth and food is the fundamental necessity for nourishment of life. Pure, fresh and healthy diet is necessary for the health, prosperity and happiness of the people of the country. There should be no doubt against it.

Pakistan is facing the grave problems of adulteration of food. Food items in the country have always been exposed to admixture with low-priced and low-grade materials.

Food adulteration is carried on to a most frightening size in every hook and corner of the country. It has now become one of the largest mushroom industries.

Fruits, vegetables, edibles particularly beverages, bottled water, cooking oil and ghee, spices, tea, sweeteners like sugar, sweetmeats and bakery products, milk and milk products are adulterated to a vast extent in our country. As a result of adulteration it has become a continuous menace to the health of the citizens. It is observed that adulterated foods and drinks are common sources of disease.

In Pakistan fertilizers and pesticides are used to a large extent in our fields. Consequently, one kind of adulterant that is present across all range of food is very large level of pesticide remaining.

Very often food is adulterated by merchants who want to make a quick gain. Shortages, increasing prices and large consumer demands lead to food adulteration.

Inadequate enforcement of food laws and food safety measures also lead to food adulteration. This has not only aggravated the situation but is also devastating the lives of our innocent and poor people.

In Pakistan there is the highest degree of adulteration of food. There is blending of edible oils with low grade varieties to ripening of bananas and mangoes with prohibited chemicals.

Most of the offenders engaged in this nefarious activity in the country go not punished. Very few persons or a company has been convicted for food adulteration in the country in the last four years.

Young children and old are suffering from various diseases due to the adulteration of food. Malnutrition, diseases like polio, typhoid fever or bacillary dysentery, cryptosporidiosis, cholera, rotavirus infections, and a variety of worm infestations, continue to endanger the health of children and old people.

A few years ago Standing Committee on Human Rights was informed that 70 percent adulterated food and 52 percent adulterated mineral water was being sold in the market.

Hair removing powder, surf, bleaching powder, salt and lead was being used in pack milk. This is so much threatening to human health but unfortunately no rigorous law has been introduced to catch the adulterators in the country.

According to Ministry of Science and Technology there is 35 percent microbiological contamination in bottled water and 1 kilogram of pure milk is being mixed with 39 kg of contaminated milk consisting of Urea, bleaching powder and other poisonous chemicals.

Moreover, high level of pesticides content is noticed in grains, pulses, in fruits and vegetables that we eat. Arsenic is being used in mineral water, which is common in all provinces.

Many products used in everyday cooking, such as cottage cheese butter and margarine, are adulterated. Colouring agents in spices are also creating serious problems. Apples are the essence for many jellies, which are coloured so as to reproduce quality ones.

Cream is adulterated with gelatin, and formaldehyde is employed as a preservative for it. Brick dust is found in chili powder, coloured chalk powder in turmeric, injectable dyes in watermelon, peas, capsicum, brinjal, papaya seeds in black pepper etc. are often used.

 

Due to the absence of fresh clean water in rural areas and even in slum areas of large cities people are forced to drink water that is high in fluoride content. It consists of high adulteration and other damaging pesticides contents.

Owing to the consumption of polluted water, people are inclined to diseases of the bone, cancer etc. It is estimated out of the total, 40 percent of the diseases prevalent in the country are water borne and about 20 to 40 percent hospitalizations are due to these diseases.

Consumption of food and beverages obtained from street food vendors has been associated with an increased risk of illness. Pesticides that are now forbidden in the western world (such as DDT) are still used most of the time by our farmers.

At least 45 percent of non-branded edible items contain toxic colours that lead to various diseases such as yellow colour which causes skin and respiratory diseases, orange colour causes ENT diseases, kidney cancer, digestive and stomach related diseases.

Research of PCSIR

Whereas red colour can cause throat, asthma, skin and other dangerous diseases. It was revealed in a survey conducted by Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (PCSIR).

FTC section of PCSIR carried out research on various local made beverages and food items and found out that the food colour, water and other material used in them were sub-standard and causes many diseases in children and other consumers.

The non-permissible food colors and cheap industrial dyes containing cancer producing chemicals are used by vendors, large and small manufacturers unregistered sweet and candy manufacturers all over the country in violation of Pure Food Rules that could poison the blood of consumers.

Leaving aside from the insufficient number of food inspectors in Karachi, reports from other parts of the country depict that in some instances the inspectors are not qualified for their job.

Pakistan needs to take food safety very much seriously. Qualified food scientists need to be recruited. The number of food inspectors in our cities and towns must be increased and restaurant staff be better trained.

Officials must also be equipped with better technology to test food quality, and parliament through legislation take speedy action against those who defy food safety laws.

Extremely low conviction rate raises a finger at the honesty of the government to book the culprits. When food samples are found adulterated in the laboratory and then matters are settled underhand.

In Pakistan no Prevention of Food Adulteration Program has been developed to regulate the quality of food and to ensure safe food for the consumers. Food adulteration, and for that matter any type of adulteration should be stopped at any cost. There should be provision for rigorous punishments like confiscation of property, life imprisonment, and even death sentence. So long exemplary punishments are not given, this menace cannot be ceased. The same sort of punishments needs also be given to the officials and politicians who cooperate with them.

Provincial and local governments need to work in coordination for the provision of hygienic and healthy food and the departments concerned should take requisite steps to cancel licenses of factories of adulterated food.

Consumers have to be aware of their rights, and nonprofit organizations should play an active role in this context. The government should also continuously inform as how many adulterators were punished for food adulteration.

There is an urgent need to revise existing Food Laws in the country (Pure Food Rules 1965) in order to improve the food control system in accordance with international requirements as there had been no change in the law since its promulgation.

Non-branded items should be prohibited in the market as high consumption of these items was the leading cause of many diseases.

Carbonated beverages should not be used in excess in view of harmful effects on the health adding that fried items such as samosas, pakoras and chips should also be avoided as oil used for frying is mostly sold at cheap rates, which is even used by five star hotels and it is even purchased by small business men.

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