Food Adulteration: The Bangladesh Paradox.

- Md. Mahboob Sobhani.

Fruit and vegetable variety.

Published On - June 18, 2015 [Vol. 2, Jan - Jun, 2015]

  1. Introduction:

We, the people of Bangladesh are living on adulterated food. Bangladesh is over burdened with laws for safety and security of food but irony is that food is most unsafe in Bangladesh. The food safety situation in Bangladesh is at an alarming stage due to food adulteration, use of toxins, pesticide residues, microbiological contamination, veterinary drug residues and heavy metals. It is paradoxical to say that the safety of food cannot be ensured due to the dilemma of existing legal paradigm in Bangladesh. In the upcoming segments the writer tries to focus on various issues of one of the fundamental impediments regarding food safety i.e. `food adulteration’ in Bangladesh.

  1. Defining Food Adulteration & Other Issues:

Food is essential for every living being on earth. Food can be defined as `edible or potable substance (usually of animal or plant origin), consisting of nourishing and nutritive components such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, essential mineral and vitamins, which (when ingested and assimilated through digestion) sustains life, generates energy, and provides growth, maintenance, and health of the body.[1]

As per the section 3(5) of the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959(amended in 2005)[2] – “Food” means any kind of edible oil, fish, fruit, meat or vegetable or any other article used as food, drinking water or any other drink for human consumption other than any drug, and includes ice, aerated water, carbonated water or any substance whether processed, semi processed or raw or any substance which has been used in the manufacture, preparation or treatment of food and those articles which will be notified by the Government from time to time, and

(a) any substance which is intended for use in the composition or preparation of food,

(b) any permitted flavouring matter or any spice or condiment, and

(c) any food grade colouring matter, preservative, anti oxidant and other additives intended for use in food;’

On the other hand the word `adulterate’ implies an element of deceit. According to the definition of Chamber’s Dictionary it means `to debase, falsify by mixing with something inferior or spurious’[3].

Hence, the term `food adulteration’ can be simply defined- as an act of intentional debasing the quality of food offered for sale either by the admixture or substitution of inferior substances or by the removal of some valuable ingredient.

It also can be defined as the addition or mixing of interior harmful, substandard, useless or unnecessary substances to foods. This spoils the nature and quality of food items and is considered food adulteration.A substance added to a food-item to reduce its quality in order to increase its quantity is called as an adulterant the addition of adulterants is called adulteration. Any food item may be considered as adulterated if its nature and quality are not up to the standard.

The meaning of adulteration varies from country to country on the basis of municipal law. If a food exceeds tolerances and regulatory limits of the country, it will be considered adulterated.[4] It is to be noted that the basic contention of the term `food adulteration’ is fully relevant and inter-related with the terms/factors like `food safety’[5] and `food security’[6].

From the Bangladeshi legal paradigm, in a strict sense, the word `adulteration’ has not been defined in anywhere of the laws prescribed. Nonetheless, by the practices, food adulteration in Bangladesh means adding harmful chemicals, toxic colors or harmful additives with the food. Section 3(1) of The Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 has disclosed under its clauses (a) to (h), eight circumstances under which an article of food shall be deemed to be “adulterated” if-

(a) any substance has been mixed and packed with it so as to reduce or lower or injuriously affect its quality or strength, or

(b) any substance has been substituted wholly or in part for it, or

(c) any of the normal constituents has been wholly or in part abstracted so as to render it injurious to health, or

(d) it is mixed, coloured, powdered, coated or stained in a manner whereby damage or inferiority is concealed, or

(e) it does not comply with any standard provided by or under this Ordinance or any other law for the time being in force, or

(f) it contains or is mixed or diluted with any substance in such quantity as is to the prejudice of the purchaser or consumer or in such proportion as diminishes in any manner the food value or nutritive qualities which it possesses in its pure, normal, undeteriorated and sound condition, or

(g) it contains any poisonous or deleterious ingredient including radiation which may render it injurious to health, or

(h) it is not of the nature, substance or quality which it purports to be or which it is represented to be by the manufacturer or the seller;’

  1. Food adulteration: It’s Objectives –

Adulterants are added to food or food adulteration may occur for the following reasons in a nutshell-

  • To increase the bulk and reduce cost, with intent to defraud the consumer;
  • To increase the quantity and make more profit;
  • To increase the shelf life of food items;
  • To attract the consumers;
  • To increase the profit margin on the expense of the health of public or consumer; etc.

 

  1. Nature of Food adulteration in Bangladesh:

Adulteration may occur in simple three following basic patterns-

  • By adding anything(various kind of adulterants) with the food to deteriorate from the nature, substance and quality of the food desired by the purchaser;
  • By removing or reducing and substituting any element or ingredient from the food to deteriorate from the nature, substance and quality of the food desired by the purchaser;
  • By false representation of a completely different item to be a food of specific kind.

Firstly, adding adulterant is the main cause of food adulteration. Adulterants can be anything that will decrease the quality of the product. The addition of adulterant in food may be intentional or accidental. But generally the adulterate addition is intentional. The major reason for the intentional addition of these adulterants is for increasing the profit margin on the expense of the health of the public or consumer. If the adulterant is naturally present in a food in an amount not ordinarily making the food harmful for health, the food will not be deemed as adulterated.[7]

Adulterants may be solids, chemicals, liquids, colouring substances and preservative.

  • Solids like sands, chalk-powder, crushed rocks, seeds of similar crops, bricks powder, wood powder, tamarind seed powder, detergent powder etc are mixed with grains or with powdery substances to increase the weight;
  • Chemicals are applied to increase the shelf of processed or semi-processed food item such as formaldehyde(commonly known as formalin), various compounds of Carbide i.e calcium Carbide; urea, artificial sweeteners Some chemicals are used for ripening of fruits and vegetables. For example, bananas are picked when green and artificially ripened after shipment by being gassed with ethylene. Calcium carbide is also used for ripening fruit artificially in our country which is inadvisable because calcium carbide has carcinogenic properties.[8] Industrial-grade calcium carbide may also contain traces of arsenic and phosphorus which makes it a human health concern.[9] The use of this chemical for this purpose is illegal in Bangladesh like most other countries.
  • Preservatives- As per the rule 2.(g) of the Pure Food Rules, 1967 Preservatives means `any substance which is capable of inhibiting, retarding or arresting the process of fermentation, acidification or other decomposition or deterioration of food.’ A preservative is a substance that is added to food to prevent decomposition by microbial growth or by undesirable chemical[10]
  • Coloring/flavoring reagents like textile and synthetic colors, dyes and pigments, toxic artificial flavor etc are added to improve the color of food items.[11] These are added to food to give an attractive appearance. The gloss of these coloring and flavoring reagents in food item make them more bright and eye catcher and allure the purchasers to buy it.
  • Pesticides and Insecticide– Pesticides and Insecticide are used at the time of farming of the plants or herbs for the purpose of the pest control. This is an indirect way of food adulteration like using growth hormone on the plants or herbs to enhance the production of the corps or fruits etc. DDT(di-chloro di-phenyl tri-chloro ethane), various chlorinated aromatic hydrocarbons and synthetic organic compounds etc are widely used in these purpose. These tend to persist in the plants or the environment at a whole as a residue and become concentrated in animals and human being at the head of the food chain.

Secondly, adulteration may also happen by removing or reducing and substituting a fair part or any ingredient of the food item, for instance- removing milk fat from the cow milk and buffalo milk to lower down its quality. Any food item(i.e. Sweetmeat, Sweetball, Kalakand, Channa, Curd, Yogurt, Cream etc) made of that kind of cow milk or buffalo milk never can reach the food value and fall very short of specified milk fat required and eventually results in adulterated food.

Thirdly, sometimes a completely different kind of thing can be represented as food item of a specified kind. For example- condensed milk as we know it in our country has no element of milk at all in it. BSTI’s license conditions requires that- the condensed milk must contain 8% milk fat, extracted either from cow or buffalo milk.[12] The Pure Food Ordinance has a higher standard than those of BSTI in case of Condensed Milk. In the year 2003 the condensed milk producing companies in Bangladesh demanded making a new standard for them by BSTI so that they could produce condensed milk with vegetable fat, arguing that such production is seen in Malaysia. Considering the health consequences, the BSTI rejected the appeal, prompting the companies to file a writ petition with the court that is yet to settle the case. Thus, the companies continued producing and marketing condensed milk with palm or soya bean fat. Then water, palm stearin (instead of edible palm oil) and sugar are added to make condensed milk which is simply poisoning the people as the palm stearin is not edible; it is used in detergent making![13]

  1. Food Adulteration: How & When Caused?

Food adulteration is an unethical business practice. It may occur at any time or any layer along the entire supply chain of the food, from producer to consumer and from `Farm to Fork’. Food or food product may reach to its consumers through any of the following ways mentioned in the table.

Table 01:

`Distribution of Food from the Farm/Production to the Fork’

Public document Private document
It is defined in section 74 of the Evidence Act.It is defined in section 75 of the Evidence Act.
It is prepared by the public servants in the discharge of their official duties. In Md. Jashimuddin Kanchan v. Md. Ali Ashraf[18] (42 DLR AD 289) held that admission of private documents as evidence- Even if no objection had been taken to formal admission of the rent receipts, the plaintiff having relied upon them for his case was bound to prove their genuineness which would be decided by the court in the light of the facts and circumstances of the caseIt is prepared by the private functionaries for the purpose of their personal need or private transaction.
Anybody who is interested to the document can obtain copy of the document.Parties to the document or their privies can only obtain document.
Anybody has right to impact documents.Barring parties to the document nobody has right to inspect the same.
It may be proved by production of the certified copy of the public document.It cannot be proved by certified copy of the document.
Contents of public document are provable by production of secondary evidence.Contents of private document must be proved by primary evidence. i.e. By production of the original document.
Secondary evidence is always admissible.Secondary evidence cannot be given when the original document is it itself in admissible.

From the table we see, any food or food product may reach from the farmer or its producer-

  • Directly to the hands of the consumers or
  • First to retailers and then to consumers or
  • First to wholesalers, then to retailers and at last to consumers or
  • First to local agents or brokers then to manufacturers later on to wholesalers, then to retailers and at last to consumers etc.

So, adulteration of food may happen in any of the layers or steps in the process of reaching the food from the farm or production to the fork of the consumers shown above. Any one or several of the farmer/producer, retailer, wholesaler, manufacture, agent/broker may cause the adulteration of food in a way of adding adulterant; removing or reducing and substituting any element thereto; or false representation of any item as food with intention of malice of extra profit making. Say for an example- mango fruits are collected from various gardens(from farmers) of Rajsahi and Chapainababgonj districts by the local agents. Before shipment some of mangoes may made calcium carbide or/and formalin tainted by the dealers. Same may be done during the change made in between the wholesalers and retailers.

Again, food adulteration also may happen in the following stages by the ill will of the farmer/ producer or agent/broker or manufacture or wholesaler or retailer at-

  1. Primary production stage;
  2. Post-harvest Food Handling, preservation, processing, packaging, transport, storage and distribution;
  3. Food Services Sector- Fresh produces, semi-processed, processed, ready to eat (RTE), hotel, restaurant, street foods etc.
  4. Effects of Food Adulteration

Followings can be the probable results of food adulteration-

  • Consumers are cheated by the traders. Consumers take impure, unsafe and incomplete food;
  • Reduces the quality of the food and this weakens the health of the consumers and thereby increases the cost for healthcare;
  • Regular intake leads to many health problems from curable to incurable disorders and can ruin one’s lifestyle and life as well;
  • The adulterated foods both fresh and processed are nutritionally poor. Food adulteration poses a very serious health hazard. Use of non–permitted chemicals causing a number of diseases including cancer, convulsion and miscarriage, respiratory problem, disorder of some organs of the body;
  • Consumption of adulterated food items may precisely cause asthma, sore throat, larynx constriction, bronchitis, skin infection, allergic reaction, diarrhea, haematuria, circulatory failure, numbness, dizziness, kidney failure, stomach, cancer, nervous disorder and other diseases;
  • Adulteration in food also decreases our moral and social values. A large number of people and companies are engaged in this kind of black business of adulterated food production, manufacture, wholesale and retailing. The entire chain makes involved a lot of people in a criminal act which requires a tremendous government effort with a proper infrastructure to combat this.

Table 2:

`List of injurious adulterants of different food and their health effect’

Name of adulterantsApplied food itemHarmful effect
FormalinFish fruit meat and milkThroat cancer kidney cancer, blood cancer, asthma, and skin diseases.
Poisonous colouring agents like auramine, rhodomine B, malachite green, and Sudan redApplied on food item for colouring, brightness, and freshness,Damage liver and kidney, and cause stomach cancer, asthma, and bladder cancer.
Colouring agents chrome, tartzine, and erythrosineused in spices, sauces, and juices, lentil, and oilscausing cancer, allergy, and respiratory problems.
Calcium carbideMango, banana etcCauses cancer in kidney, liver, skin, prostate, and lungs.
Rye flourUsed in barley, bread, and wheat flourConvulsion and miscarriage.
HormoneCauliflower, pineapplecauses infertility of women.
Agino moto or monosodium glutamateUsed in Chinese restaurant food item.cause nervous system disorder and depression.
UreaPuffed rice and rice.Nervous system damage and
respiratory problem.
SulphuricacidUsed in milk for condensationcauses damage to the cardiac system.
Brick powder, saw dustChilly powderStomach problem.
Non permitted dye like mentanil yellowTurmeric powderCarsinogenic.
Used tea leaves processed and colouredTeaLiver disorder.
Non permitted coalter dye, (mentanil yellow)Sweets, juice, jam etc Toxic and carsinogenic.
Artificial colours such ascopper, zinc or indigo based dyesSoft and hard drinksToxic.
  1. Governance & Legal Frame work to combat Food Adulteration in Bangladesh:

In Bangladesh the governance and legal frame work to combat food adulteration can be described under the following heads:-

  • International Commitments of Bangladesh

Bangladesh ratified various international instruments regarding `Right to Food’, i.e.

  • The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948;
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966;
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) 1989; and
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) 1990 where right to food is guaranteed.

Right to food is directly related to ICESCR as it is one of the economic, social and cultural rights and Bangladesh ratified this covenant on 5 October, 1998.[23]

Here, it is very precisely notable that every kind of food or food stuffs means and includes that food which is free from adulteration, contamination etc. of any kind. So, being signatory and ratifying the above mentioned global instruments, Bangladesh guarantees the `Purity in Food’ in every aspect.

  • Constitutional Mandate:

Article 15: Article 15 of the Constitution of Bangladesh provides basis for right to food under the title `Provision of basic necessities’ which speaks that `It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to attain, through planned economic growth, a constant increase of productive forces and a steady improvement in the material and cultural standard of living of the people, with a view to securing to its citizens-(a) the provision of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care.’[24]

Article 18(1): Article 18(1) of the Constitution speaks that `the state shall raise the level of nutrition and improve public health as its primary duties’. Both the articles imply food safety requirements for consumers.[25]

  • Food safety basic laws:
  • The Pure Food Ordinance 1959, (Amendment in 2005) and
  • Pure Food Rules 1967 provides basic framework of food law that includes scope and definitions, administration and enforcement guidelines for the food safety.

Food Safety Act, 2013, a very comprehensive law covering almost all sides of legal paradigm of food safety and security in Bangladesh was passed by the legislature in October, 2013 which is yet to come in operation till date. Preparation of rules under this law is going on. The previous two laws will be repealed when this Act will be operative.

  • Subsidiary laws:

There are a number of laws which partially address some other food safety issues, such as-

  • 272 and S.273 of the Penal Code, 1860
  • Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956
  • Food (Special Courts) Act, 1956
  • Cantonments Pure Food Act, 1966
  • Pesticide Ordinance, 1971
  • 26C of Special Power Act 1974,
  • Fish and Fish Products (Inspection and Control), Ordinance, 1983
  • Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution Ordinance, 1985
  • Iodine Deficiency Disorders Prevention Act, 1989
  • Vokta Odhikar Songrokkhon Ain, 2009 [Consumers Rights Protection Act 2009],
  • Sthanio Sarkar (City Corporation) Ain, 2009 [Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009]
  • Sthanio Sarkar (Paurashava) Ain, 2009 [Local Government (Paurashava) Act, 2009]
  • Mobile Court Ain, 2009 [Mobile Court Act, 2009].
  • The Water Act, 2013
  • Alternative of Breast Milk, Baby Food and Commercial Produce of Supplement for Baby Food and Food Staffs(Control of Marketing) Act, 2013
  • Enrichment of Vitamin `A’ in Edible Oil Act, 2013.

It is important to note that, use of such a large number of laws for a single purpose like food safety in Bangladesh is quite unusual and unprecedented in the whole world.[26]

Salient Features of the Safe Food Act, 2013

Responsibilities as to Safe Food- a. General responsibilities, b. Specific responsibilities;

Some prohibitions on management of Safe Foods;

Both civil and criminal liabilities for manufacturers, producers and business operators of safe food.

  1. National situation of Food Adulteration:

Under the following segments writer tries to shortly reflect the present scenario of food adulteration as well various hindrances of the state mechanism to combat it.

  • Major Food Groups commonly associated with adulterants:

Food adulteration has reached to a dangerous level posing a serious health hazards in the country. The problem is now alarming and people are suffering from food phobia. Proportion of adulterated and fake food item in the market varied between 70 to 90 percent. Basic food item in the market like rice, fish, fruits, vegetables, spices, milk and milk products, sweetmeats etc are adulterated. Infested and damaged grains, husks, sand and beads are added to increase the weight. Edible oil, ghee, butter oil, mustard oil are adulterated with hydrogenated oil, animal fats and rep seed oil. Vanaspathi is added in ghee. Artificial sweeteners and flavours, un-permitted colors, excess colors are added to the Confectionery and bakery. Fat is extracted from milk and water is added and synthetic milk (liquid detergent, sugar, water, vegetable fat, urea etc.) is in the stores. Powder milk is adulterated with melamine. Condense milk is made by using stearin and without any element of natural milk.[27]

Formalin and DDT is applied on fish to increase their shelf life, ethylene and calcium carbide on fruits for quick ripening or delay ripening, urea to whiten the puffed rice and textile dyes to beautify the sweetmeats. Heavy metals, such as lead, chromium and arsenic accumulate in the body that might cause kidney and liver failure and develop abnormality among children.[28] Excessive use of wheat flour in place of milk protein (chhana) in the preparation of sweetmeat is an example of adulteration. Use of carboxyl methyl (CMC) in lieu of liquid glucose or sugar syrup in the preparation of soft drinks is an example of extortion. Fruit juices are prepared by using artificial and prohibited ingredients instead of using original fruit juice.

  • Over lapping of Laws:

There is overlapping of laws for criminalizing particular offences of food adulteration. Sections 272 and 273 of the Penal Code, 1860 make food adulteration an offence. The Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 also tries the same offence in section 6(1)(a) and prohibits food adulteration in the process of manufacturing. Section 16 of the same Act proscribes keeping of adulterants in places where food is manufactured. Later in 1974, food adulteration became punishable under Section 25C of the Special Power Act, which is simply considered as the alteration of the language, punishment (in this instance, death penalty) of the parallel provisions of Penal Code.

While food adulteration has been criminalized under the aforementioned three laws simultaneously, in 2009, the government enacted the Consumers Right Protection Act, 2009, where section 41 includes the same offence over again. This multiplicity of laws creates confusion in the mind of manufacturers, processors, retailers or even to the enforcement authorities to realise which law deals with particular food safety issue.

  • Rest of the country is more Vulnerable than the capital:

The situation of adulteration is graver in rest of the country than the Dhaka city. All the few food laboratories under various government, autonomous and international organisations in Bangladesh are situated either in Dhaka or neighboring Dhaka. However, very few of those are operating down to the regional and district level.

The Public Health Food Laboratory of Dhaka City Corporation provides the certificate of analysis or bacteriological or other examination for food samples collected within Dhaka City but for the rest of the Bangladesh(outer Dhaka metropolitan city and other 63 districts) The Public Health Food Laboratory situated at Mohakhali, Dhaka is the only institution to do the same. As per the section 3(7) of the Pure Food Ordinance, City Corporations of Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Barisal, Khulna, Sylhet or any other city corporations or pourashavas being the local authorities have to have food testing laboratory. In reality only Dhaka City Corporations have only one lab. Every other city corporations, pourashavas or the Civil Surgeon offices depend only on the Public Health Food Laboratory situated at Mohakhali, Dhaka for the certificate of analysis or bacteriological or other examination for food samples collected within their local area. It is a mammoth task for that laboratory to dispose of such a huge number of samples within short time. It is observed that if a food sample is collected in apprehension of adulteration anywhere in Barisal or Rangpur it may take more than 06 months to send a sample and to obtain a certificate from this lab. If it takes such a long time, the food sample collected for that purpose might have destroyed or spoiled or go wrong in the transit of package. Hence, there can be a fair possibility of miscarriage of justice. Keeping this thing in mind the sanitary inspectors in rest of the country feel discouraged to collect samples which are of naturally decoying within short time. Rarely, cases under the ordinance are filed to the cognizance Court in those areas. Thus food safety in these areas is very critical and the culprits involved in the vicious circle of food adulteration never meet the justice.

  • Facts of Formaldehyde(Formalin) Myth:

Formalin is the most common phenomenon for the food sector now in Bangladesh.

`Equipped with unfit gear for detecting formalin in food items, law enforcers embarked upon a massive drive in June, 2014 and destroyed mainly truckloads of fruits, achieving next to nothing.[29]’

Yes, this was the prime caption of a renowned daily of Bangladesh on Sunday, September 14, 2014.

This year in June and July a significant number of available locally produced fruits (e.g. mango, jackfruit, litchi etc) and fruits imported cross borders were destroyed countrywide(heavily in Dhaka City) by mobile Court in collaboration with the police, labelling those fruits to be formalin, DDT and Calcium Carbide tainted. But, Scientists at the Bangladesh Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR) better known as `science laboratory’ have found that formalin detector machine “Formaldehyde Meter Z-300” is not “appropriate” for testing fruits as It can give wrong information about the presence of formalin in fruits since the machine was made to measure presence of formaldehyde in the air. [30]

Scientist of BCSIR commented so in response to an order passed on July 21, 2014 to conduct laboratory test of that machine in a writ petition filed on July 9, 2014 to a Bench of Hon’ble Justice Salma Masud Chowdhury and Hon’ble Justice Md Habibul Gani of the High Court Division.

The reality is that the pro-active actions of law enforcers resulted very negatively implying that,

1) tons of foods and fruits destroyed in confusion;

2) growers and traders hit hard;

3) consumers turning away from fruits;

4) above all hurt the country’s image internationally as a food exporter.

It may sound paradoxical that a battle fought so far in confusion was actually led to a miscarriage of Justice.

It is very surprising that despite a significant number of issues of formalin apprehension being resolved in the mobile court, not a single issue was reported to the Pure Food Court anywhere in Bangladesh.

By the amendment of Pure Food Ordinance in 2005 section 6.A.was inserted and by that use of any poisonous or dangerous chemicals or ingredients or additives or substances like calcium carbide, formalin, pesticides (DDT, PCBs oil etc.), or intoxicated food colour or flavouring matter in any food and the sale of such kind of food made punishable. By the plain reading of the section it is easily understood that to be an offence under this section only presence of formalin or calcium carbide or pesticides (DDT, PCBs oil etc.) is sufficient; ratio or percentage of its presence in the food is irrelevant.

  • BSTI versus Pure Food Laws : A Dichotomy of Standard?

The ordinance of Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution relates to establishment of an institution for standardization, testing, metrology, quality control, grading and marking of goods. Within the framework of this ordinance, the government has established the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI). One import task of this organization is to certify the quality of commodities, materials, whether for local consumption or for export and import.

It may be noted that almost in all cases food articles were sent for examination the public analyst certified them as ‘adulterated’. Most surprisingly, many food products, which have passed the BSTI test, the public analyst termed them ‘adulterated’. It reveals an ostensible conflict of standard between the BSTI and the public analyst appointed under the Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance, 1959, which needs to be refuted by proper legislative amendments.[31]

The analytical facilities and arrangements for testing adulteration of food in Bangladesh are considered to be very weak. While there are a number of laboratories undertaking food analysis, most are only testing food for proximate or compositional parameters. But analysis results of all the laboratories are not admissible in the eye of law. We have following laboratories to mitigate the various issues of analysis regarding food safety-

  • Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution(BSTI) do food analysis only for the purpose of quality certification and standardization, although the laboratory is capable of undertaking a range of analyses associated with food safety. BSTI is entrusted with the responsibility of formulation of national Standards of industrial, food and chemical products keeping in view the regional and international standards. BSTI is responsible for the quality control of the products which are ensured as per specific national standards made by the technical committees formed by BSTI. BSTI is also responsible for the implementation of metric system and to oversee the accuracy of weights and measures in the country.[32]
  • The Public Health Laboratory performs a limited array of food analyses associated with the Pure Food Rule. While the laboratory has some specialized analytical equipment, it is poorly maintained, lacks access to consumables, and does not have adequately qualified and skilled manpower.[33] Importantly, the laboratory supports a national network of Sanitary Inspectors responsible for oversight of a safe food supply. Except the Dhaka metropolitan area the Sanitary Inspectors of whole of Bangladesh obtains the certificate of analysis or bacteriological or other examination of food from here under section 31 of the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959.
  • The Public Health Food Laboratory of Dhaka City Corporation provides the certificate of analysis or bacteriological or other examination for food samples collected by the Sanitary Inspectors of the local authorities DSCC(Dhaka South City Corporation) and DNCC(Dhaka North City Corporation) within the Dhaka metropolitan area. It has limited facilities for food testing, limited skilled manpower and lacks specialized equipment.
  • The Central Food Testing Laboratory has a limited scope focusing primarily on a limited range of physicochemical attributes of food grains.
  • The Plant Protection Wing Laboratory provides quarantine services for imported plant and food products (fruit, vegetable etc) and
  • Livestock Services Laboratory performs quality assessment of animal vaccines and drugs, disease investigation in animals, and quality assessment of poultry feeds.

In these main laboratories a range of facilities exist addressing food quality and safety but there is little coordination or collaboration. No laboratory has a laboratory quality management system in place. There is no single Government laboratory with a critical mass of trained and competent analysts with access to well maintained equipment and facilities undertaking routine chemical and microbiological analysis of food products such as vegetables, fruit, meat, chicken, fish, eggs, processed foods, etc to establish their safety and suitability for domestic consumers. If such a laboratory was established, it could serve all of Bangladesh and provide a one-stop facility for food analysis. In a nut shell the capacity to appropriately monitor food safety in Bangladesh through laboratory analysis is absent.

Now the By this time we came to know that the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 and the Pure Food Rules, 1967 are the basic and fundamental laws to directly operate the legal functionaries to curb and remedy the widespread evil of food adulteration and thereby to protect and preserve public health.[34] Cantonment Pure Food Act, 1966 and the Cantonment Pure Food Rules, 1967 have a very rare application. Section 25C and 26 of the Special Power Act, 1974 are found to be the repetition of the concern law with just separate forum of trial.

So it is precise that the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 and the Pure Food Rules, 1967 are the only prescribed laws to commonly deal with issues of adulteration of food i.e.-

  • Definition of the various offences relating adulteration of food;(Sections 3 and 6 to 37)
  • regulations of the judicial tools;
  • establishment, power, function and jurisdiction of Pure Food Court; (Section 41)
  • appointment of the public analyst; (Section 4)
  • inspection and seizure of sample; (Sections 34 to 39)
  • analysis of sample and certification thereto; (Sections 28 to 33)
  • process of institution of prosecution; (Section 40)
  • trial procedure of cases filed;
  • prescribe punishment for the offence defined, (Section 44)
  • setting general principles and rules;
  • schedule with a chart of 107 products describing the specific standards(nature, quality and substance of the article of food)

The very first sentence of the Ordinance is- `An Ordinance to provide for the better control of the manufacture and sale of food for human consumption.’ which implies the intention for its enunciation. The basic terms of food adulteration are only explained none other but in the Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 as aforesaid. Even the Public Analyst who will analyse the food and issue to the Inspector a certificate in the prescribed form showing the result of the analysis also must have to be appointed by the local authority under section 4(1) within its area to carry out the purposes of this Ordinance.

Section 5 of the said Act said that –

`Government may determine by rules in this behalf-

(1)(a) the normal constituents and the values of the chemical and physical constants of any article of food, and

(b) in respect of a sample of any article of food, the deficiency in any such constituent or the addition of any extraneous matter or the proportion of water which shall, for the purpose of this Ordinance and until the contrary is proved, raise a presumption that such article is adulterated.

(2) A public analyst shall, when certifying the result of any analysis made under this Ordinance, have regard to the rules referred to in sub-section (1).’

From the easy reading of the section above it is clearly understood that while analyse the food, the Public Analyst will only take the standard(s) prescribed in the schedule of the Pure Food Rules, 1959 set by the government. Hence, there is no scope to follow any other standard(s) i.e. BSTI etc to certify any food whether it is adulterated or not. Because the purposes of Bangladesh Standard and Testing Institution(BSTI) and that those of Pure Food Ordinance is completely different. Earlier sets the standard and issue certificate for various products(including food items) only for business or commercial purpose, on the other hand the latter defines the food which one is adulterated and prescribes punishment for that offence of adulteration. As per the section 47(1) of the Act, Pure Food Ordinance is the superior law over any other laws in operation. Any provision of law inconsistent with the ordinance is void to that extent and it will prevail. It states that-

`Inconsistency or conflict of provisions of this Ordinance with provisions of other Acts- 47. (1) If, in any area in which this Ordinance is in force, any provision of this Ordinance is inconsistent with any provision of any other Act which is in operation in such area, the provisions of the other Act in their application to such area shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void and the provisions of this Ordinance shall prevail.’

Thus, this stanza of section 47(1) of the Pure Food Ordinance gives the `Supremacy of laws’ over any other, relating the various issues of food safety in Bangladesh. Therefore, BSTI cannot declare a product as fit for consumption or as adulterated either it is BSTI’s responsibility. It is a matter of great disorder that BSTI issues fitness certificate for food items analyzing them by parameters and standards different from those of Pure Food Rules. This certificate issuing for food items by BSTI overlooking the already fixed standards set by government under the Pure Food Rules are totally inconsistent and found void in law. Currently there is a list of 155 products brought under mandatory certification marks scheme in which food and agricultural products are 64 items.[35] On the other hand the Pure Food Rules, 1959 sets standard of analysis for 107 article of food including all the food items mentioned in BSTI’s list.[36] So, the legal provision is that for certification of the food and food products it is mandatory for BSTI that to follow the principles and parameters of standard set up by the Pure Food Rules, 1967 with collaboration of Pure Food Ordinance, 1959.

From the above discussion with the blend of legal provisions, we can clearly conclude that any item of food can only be said as `food’ or `adulterated food’ if that one covers the criteria set up by this Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 and no other laws in existence can do the same. But the harsh reality is, what we see is a complete adverse scenario in practice.

From the firsthand experience of the writer, being the Presiding Officer of the only specialized Pure Food Court in Bangladesh, it can be note down that the producers(the big-name companies) of the seized adulterated food items, very often take the plea in this Court that `the seized products obtained the clearance or certificate from the BSTI, why they will be vexed under Pure Food Ordinance?’. A good number of cases of this Court are also challenged by filing writ petition to the Hon’ble High Court referring to the same plea. They try to represent this point as `dual standard or dichotomy of standard’ for testing food in Bangladesh. The writer hopes that the para above clearly answers this question negating the claim of these big shot companies, rather it is a process of dilly-dally to face the justice.

The observation of the writer is that these big shot companies somehow obtain the certificate from BSTI and import, produce or manufacture the maximum food or food products in Bangladesh. As obtaining certificate from BSTI does not render the product as `food’ or `adulterated food’ under the law of the land(Pure Food Ordinance), they as well as the agents, retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers- the entire chain get involved in the sin of food adulteration. These facts resulted in the matter that the agents, retailers, wholesalers of the food or food product being the bonafied purchasers from their importer, producer or manufacturer suffer a ton in the implementation of legal mechanism. Thus all the bonafied purchasers( or seller from whom the mass people buy the foodstuffs) pay the penalty for the mistake done by the importer, producer or manufacturer as they got the wrong certificate from the BSTI. So, just prohibiting this kind of certification relating food more than 50 percent of food adulteration could be stopped.

Presently The Public Health Laboratory of Mokhali, Dhaka and The Public Health Food Laboratory of Dhaka City Corporation only have the legal stance to analysis the food and issue certificate showing the result whether the item is adulterated or not. Only there certificates are admissible in the eye as they follow the Pure Food Rules. It is to be noted that Certificate obtained from any other government laboratory following the standards of the Pure Food Rules is also admissible by law.

The Ordinance established Pure Food Court and section 32 (1) provides that the Court, whether exercising its original appellate or revisional jurisdiction, and whether in its own motion or on the application of the complainant or the accused, may cause any article of food, or ingredient used in the manufacture thereof or substance capable of being so used, to be sent for analysis to the Director of Public Health Laboratory, Bangladesh, or to such other person as the Government may appoint by general or special order on this behalf. But a question may arise that if an appellate or revisional court directs the Director of Public Health Laboratory for analysis of any article of food but in the meantime the expiration date of the product runs out then what will be the consequence.

In fact, there are several lacunas in the legislations preventing food adulteration. To achieve the aims of these enactments the testing methods by the Public Analyst should be more scientific as well as reliable. It may be recommended that complaints against suspicious food articles which have gone through the BSTI test may be referred to BSTI so that no one is confused to maintain two standards i.e. BSTI standard and standard follows by Public Analyst. To meet the ends it may also be recommended to ensure necessary amendments to the prevailing legislations.

  1. Pure Food Court: So Far a Success Story:

Pure Food Courts are established under section 41 of the Pure Food Ordinance having a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Senior Judicial Magistrate as the presiding judge for the Court. Generally in every district or metropolitan area the regular cognizance Courts which are presided by the Metropolitan Magistrate or a Senior Judicial Magistrate serves this purpose. Among the Courts of whole of Bangladesh only in Dhaka Metropolitan Magistracy we have three special Courts to deal with the matters arising out of various food safety and food adulteration issues. The next paras give a glimpse of the activities of these Courts to ensure the justice regarding various issues of food adulteration and others.

The following table shows that of 7415 food samples 3017(40.69%) were found and certified as adulterated.

Table 03:

Five Years laboratory findings of food samples collected by health Inspectors of DSCC & DNCC

SL NOYEAR OF COLLECTIONTOTAL NUMBER OF SAMPLESADULTERATEDCONFORM
TO
STANDARDS
0102030405
022010
(DCC )
1770811959
032011
(DCC)
1630642988
042012
(DSCC + DNCC)
1607696911
052013
(DSCC + DNCC)
1314471843
062014 (up to October)
(DSCC + DNCC)
1094397697
07Total74153017
(40.69%)
4398
(59.31%)

Along with the retail sellers, the manufacturers and producers, basically the owners of big shot companies were punished and paid the prize to meet the justice. Lot of products of popular brands names, upon which the mass people confidently rely are found adulterated. In many cases these big companies take the refuge of filing writ petitions challenging the sample collection and food analysis procedure pleading that to inconsistent with BSTI standards. Previously we made a detailed discussion on this. Now let’s have a look to reveal the real stories of the products of popular brands names(those which are brought before these Courts), upon which the mass people confidently rely!

Table 04:

List of Companies Convicted

NAME OF THE COMPANY OR BRANDPRODUCTSTOTAL CASES FILED AGAINST
Pran Agro Ltd;
Pran RFL Group
Holud(Termaric)(1), Mustard Oil(1), Bason(1), Tomato sauce(4), Tomato Ketchap(1), Chatni(1).09(nine)
Tanvir Master Oil(Fresh-Meghna Group)Soybean Oil(5), Dalda(1)06(six)
City Group Ltd(Teer)Soybean Oil(3), Dalda(3)06(six)
Grameen Danon Foods Ltd.(of Dr. Mohammad Yunus)Shakti Doi(1)01(one)
Onnopurna Oil Mill(Shuresh Mustard Oil)Mustard Oil(4)4 (four)
Abdul Monem Ltd.(IGLOO)Icecreem(4), Ghee(1)5 (five)
ACI Food Ltd.(Shopno Super Shop)Mustard oil, Rosgolla2(two)
Rahim Afroze(Agora Super Shop)Honey, Ghee2(two)
Nondon Mega ShopTomato Sauce1(one)
Ahmed Food ProductsTomato sauce4 (four)
Bangladesh Edible Oil Ltd(Rupchand)Soyabean Oil2(two)
Super Oil Refinery( Pusti Soyabean)Soyabean Oil2(two)
Seven Garden Bitumin and Edible Oil(Veola)Soyabean Oil2(two)
Akij Food & Beverage(Farm Fresh) Curd, milk, curd,3(three)
Acme Ltd.Mineral water, mustered oil2(two)
Polar Ice creamIce cream2(two)
Quality Ltd.Ice cream, Soyabean Oil2(two)
BRAC(Araang Doi) Curd4 (four)
Anil Ghosh Bagha Bari GheeGhee1(one)

This list of manufacturers and producers can go quite a long. The renowned chain super shops and malls being the retailer or seller are in the row to be added in the list for retailing and selling adulterated food items. Popular restaurants, sweetmeat shops, bakery etc are also sentenced for selling adulterated food.

Very important thing is that no offence under section 6.A of the Pure Food Ordinance for selling formalin, calcium carbide or DDT tainted food, fruits, vegetables, fish etc. ever reported in the Pure Food Courts anywhere in Bangladesh. Because the kits or tools used in Bangaldesh for detecting formalin etc is not fit for doing so.[38] No case of use of preservative, toxic colour and flavor etc over food were ever filed in this Court for the same reason. Whereas the Mobile Courts conducted by the various authorities are recklessly doing the same without realizing the real contentions of the law. The regular Courts practice the cardinal principle of criminal justice that- `There can be a miscarriage of Justice if it attempted to be done in doubt and the guilt must be proved beyond all reasonable doubt.’ Law enforcers should always keep in mind that the Pure Food Courts are the only Court of original jurisdiction to try any matter arising out of the Pure Food laws and the Mobile Court driven activities never can be a judicious solution to combat food adulteration. Every dispute brought before the law, should be resolved as per the provision of law and must not be resolved in confusion.

Thus, Pure Food Courts performing its duty as much it is entrusted with. It is duty of the prosecution to prosecute someone before a Court and the Court will do it’s part. Judicial activism is still a myth for the context of food sector in our country.

  1. How to control or minimize Food adulteration:
  • It is hard to eradicate Food adulteration from a third world country like Bangladesh. Nonetheless, following observations may lead the path ways to combat well the adulteration of food items.
  • The consumers must give up the Compromising attitude towards food adulteration;
  • Implementation strategies of laws must be outlined clearly for a better enforcement regime so that all instances of non-compliance can be easily identified and action taken promptly by the proper authority;
  • Pure food Courts being the Courts of original jurisdiction, only deal with the Pure Food Ordinance. Every Pure Food Court must be given power take cognizance and dispose any complaint under all the food related laws of land[39]. Thus it will be a single forum to deal with all related matters or laws of food sector;
  • Government must take the Pure Food Ordinance as the only governing law of the food sector in real essence. BSTI’s interference in setting standard or procuring parallel certificate of standard of food in breach of the Pure Food Ordinance must be stopped;
  • The Food Safety Act, 2013, concerned rules of the Act and Formalin control Laws should be made operative as early as possible;
  • Government must ensure transparency and accountability in inspection procedure, analysis of food and prosecution method. Offenders must be prosecuted indiscriminate to any consideration. Credible laboratory services for food analysis and risk based food inspection system to be in place;
  • Well equipped laboratories for every kind of food analysis such as- tests for formalin, carbide, DDT, preservative and color check, with skilled personnels must be established in each district all over Bangladesh;
  • Power of cancellation of the trade license or to make such recommendation to the concerned authority for persistent offenders( the owners of the companies) should be given to the Pure Food Courts;
  • Awarding exemplary punishment to those who contaminate food items with formalin and other toxic chemicals the penalties need to include rigorous imprisonment for long periods and relatively heavy fines. Even life sentences should be considered in cases weighing the consequences of the offences on victims;
  • Carriage of food specially fruits, fresh vegetables, milk, fish etc should be given preference at the time of transportation as if those can reach the destination without delay. Then it will be no more required to add preservative, formalin, DDT etc to increase the life shell of that food.
  • Control of food adulteration in Bangladesh is a multi-sectoral responsibility. Fifteen ministries are involved in food safety and quality control and ten ministries are directly involved in food inspection and enforcement services. The roles and responsibilities of the concerned ministries and agencies must be clear and should cover the whole food chain from farm-to-table. The National Food Safety Advisory Council (NFSAC) needs prompt action for overall coordination for food safety and food control at the national level.
  • The government and regulatory bodies must be driven by professional obligations not by media propaganda.
  • Creation of Mass communication, motivation, awareness and training of food producers, operators, consumers against the use of formalin and other chemical substances in food items;
  • Persuasive measures like caution notice, improvement notice may be involved in the enforcement mechanism. Steps must be taken to overcome Poor knowledge of standards, laws/regulations among the producers and consumers.
  • Inclusion of course regarding the fatal impacts of food adulteration in curriculum at different levels.
  1. Conclusion:

We, the people of Bangladesh have the every legitimate expectation to get the food free from adulteration as of our constitutional right. This is the responsibility of the state apparatus to ensure that for the common people. Food adulteration can be substantially combat by the legal paradigm presently we have with few renovations of law. But it is very important, how these laws are being implemented by the state. No more hyperactive drives without following the spirit of law by the Mobile Courts are expected, because judicially established Courts are there to act under the protocol of law. The manufacturers and producers should not hanker after money by the way of delivering adulterated food to the innocent people. Let us live and let others live on food free from adulteration of any kind. As Virginia Wolf, famous English writer said while describing food as medicine –

`One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.’

[1] http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/food.html#ixzz3HES8EAuf, accessed on 20/10/2014

[2] THE PURE FOOD ORDINANCE, 1959 (EAST PAKISTAN ORDINANCE NO. LXVIII OF 1959).

[3] The Chambers Dictionary, Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chambers_Dictionary, accessed on 19/09/2014

[4] ibid

[5] Food safety is the assurance that food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared or eaten according to its intended use.

[6] The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”. Available at http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/, accessed on 28/10/2014

[7]wikipedia, Adulterated food: Poisonous or deleterious substances, September 2013, Available at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adulterated_food> Accessed on 24/10/2014.

[8] “What is Calcium Carbide?”. Experts123.com. Accessed on 24/10/2014.

[9] Per, Hüseyin; Kurtoğlu, Selim; Yağmur, Fatih; Gümüş, Hakan; Kumandaş, Sefer; Poyrazoğlu, M. Hakan (2007), Calcium carbide poisoning via food in childhood, The Journal of Emergency Medicine 32 (2): 179–80,

[10] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preservative, accessed on 24/10/2014.

[11] http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/info/books-phds/books/foodfacts/html/maintext/main8b.html. accessed on 24/10/2014.

[12] http://www.dhakatribune.com/food/2014/aug/11/saga-so-called-condensed-milk#sthash.3Jr1o1KZ.dpuf, accessed on 24/10/2014.

[13] ibid

[14] `Health Hazard of Formalin’, http://www.dhakatribune.com/food/2013/jun/15/formalin-fruits-can-be-fatal, visited on 07/11/2014.

[15] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuberculosis, visited on 07/11/2014.

[16]Food Adulteration Rings Alarm Bell, Thursday, /11/08/2011, http://archive.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=198096, visited on 07/11/2014.

[17] ibid

[18] ibid

[19] ibid

[20] ibid

[21] ibid

[22] ibid

[23] Golay, C. and Ozden M., The Right to Food, Part of a series of the Human Rights Programme of the Europe-Third World Centre (CETIM) Annex 2: list of states parties to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights (ratification by 151 States), p. 19, 23, 35, 43.

[24] Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 1972, Article 15

[25] ibid

[26] M S Siddiqui, `Bangladesh has highest number of food safety laws in world’, The Daily Ittefaq, June 30, 2014, http://www.clickittefaq.com/in-the-news/bangladesh-highest-number-food-safety-laws-world,Visited on 27th September, 2014)

[27] Adulterated condensed milk floods market, Kamran Reza Chowdhury, The Independent, 21/01/2003, (in archive),visited on 23/10/2014

[28] http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2014/05/09/food-or-poison/#sthash.li2g62Bk.dpuf,

[29] Report published on The Daily Star, available on http://www.thedailystar.net/print_post/confusing-battle-fought-so-far-41567, accessed on 16th September, 2014.

[30] Source- http://www.dhakatribune.com/safety/2014/sep/24/bcsir-finds-formalin-detector-%E2%80%98inappropriate%E2%80%99#sthash.WJwAMHGS.dpuf. Visited on 27.09.2014.

[31]Khan, Nazrul Islam, Food Adulteration: A review of the prevailing legislations, an article published in Dhaka courier, on Thursday, May 17th, 2012 available at: http://www.dhakacourier.com.bd/?p=6090#sthash.fIABg62A.dpuf, accessed on 27/10/2014

[32] http://www.bsti.gov.bd/about.html, visited on 29/10/2014

[33] Assessment of the Capabilities and Capacities of Laboratories Analyzing Foods in Bangladesh- Report prepared by the FAO Food Safety Project Team, June 2010, Available at http://www.google.com.bd/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source,d.dGc, accessed on 23/10/2014

[34] Masud A.R., `The Pure Food Laws’, 1st Edition, September, 1995, page 2

[35] http://www.bsti.gov.bd/cert_mark_productList.html, visited on 4/11/2014.

[36] Included in the schedule of the Pure Food Rules, 1967.

[37] Dhaka City Corporation(DCC) was divided into Dhaka South City Corporation(DSCC) Dhaka City North Corporation(DNCC) at the end of the year 2011.

[38] Report submitted by the BCSIR to the Hon’ble High Court in relation to a writ filed.

[39] Names of all the food related laws are mentioned before.

About The Writer

Article Author Image

Md. Mahboob Sobhani.

Special Metropolitan Magistrate, Pure Food Court, Dhaka.

Presently the writer is presiding over the `Pure Food Court’ of the Dhaka Metropolitan City, only special Court in the Republic to deal with the `food safety and security’ issues.

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