By Mohammad Kepayet Ullah
Food is one of the basic human needs. It is the first thing that keeps human being as well as animals alive and active by providing necessary vitamins, minerals and energy sources. However, sometimes food may become a major reason for our death or physical disability. It may seem paradoxical to talk about food, at the same time, to be our life saver as well as killer. You eat food not knowing how much chemical and preservative it contains and even if you know you have nothing to do except endangering your life with those harmful chemicals, otherwise you would have to starve and endure. How can it be possible for food,which has been keeping us alive since the ancient Stone Age, to be our killer in this modern age? What wrong is occurring with food items in this technologically advanced era when we are claiming us to rise on the apex point of civilization?
We turn our every day’s newspapers and cannot skip our eyes from reading news about the toxic elements mixed up with our foods. Sometimes we, ourselves, can recognize a fabricated smell, colour or test in our food that, we believe, is added with our food unnaturally. Both domestic foods and foreign foods are intoxicated to a large extent, which play the role of killers instead of savers.
Technology has not only changed our life style but also, with virtue of globalization and modern transportation system, has changed our food habits. Now a day, we love to see our dining tables decorated with various food items and fruits originated from a far end region of the world. In particular, if we talk about our favourite apple, orange, malta and other foreign fruitswhich reach to our dining table travelling thousands of kilometers from Australia, china, South Africa, Egypt, Tunisia and son on. In such a case it may take up to two months from the packing date to reach customers. It is unrealistic to think these fruits and food items to remain fresh for such a long time naturally. The exporters must do something artificial to keep them fresh and edible.This means they have to preserve foods and fruits by refrigerating or using some chemicals. Some chemicals are available in market, which are not harmful for human consumption but these are more expensive. So some greedy and profit seeker exporters, for more profits, use some inconsumable and poisonous chemicals. All these contaminated foods and fruits get access unchecked to our market through our open ports. Theseharmful chemicalmixed up with our foods may rush us to immature death or any kind of fatal diseases. In particular, formalin is a chemical that is normally used for medical purpose, for instance, preserving dead bodies from rotting. This chemical is widely found in our everyday meals, used as preservative, which ultimately may cause diseases such as, cancer, kidney dysfunction etc. Carbon hydroxide is used to ripen fruits, which are picked up before their due season for double profits, which ultimate leads us to diseases like liver cirrhosis or again cancer. So the people of Bangladesh are at the brink of destruction from eating these unsafe foreign foods and fruits.
The story of food contamination does not end with foreign fruits and foods. Vegetables and dairy product, we eat every day, are reportedly contaminated by some toxic chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides which are extremely incompetent for human consumption. Chromium is used inseveral of foods such as fruits, vegetables, beverages and meats, which has direct relation to cancer. Fish is preserved for months by using formalin and DDT which have relation to chronic diseases. Aldrin has been widely used to protect crops such as corn and potatoes that is a toxic to human body and causes acute headache, dizziness, nausea, malaise and vomiting. Beverage products, we consume, are produced by using poor quality substances and chemicals. The contamination of water by toxic chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides discharged from our farmlands and industries are occurring arsenic in ground water, which is threatening our last resort of water source. Street vendors, operating small and unregulated carts, feed millions of people daily, offering no guarantee of food safety, of which approximately one out of six people is becoming ill after eating this food.
Recently UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Bangladesh government have jointly published a food statement that revealed a quietly true picture of our food contamination level. The statement says that we are consuming 40% poisonous food per day that is harmful for our stomach and cases cancer, diabetes. That also says that poisonous substances exist in 35% of our fruits and 50% of vegetables. Some types of antibiotic are found in poultry chickens and cocks, and fishes which are linked to some fatal diseases. Turmeric and Sault are weighted and glittered by mixing various kinds of poisonous materials like aluminum and dump materials. Before the publication of FAW statement Public Health Foundation of Bangladesh has tested 5312-sample of food items in 2012 of which they found 2508 food items harmful for human body.
These all contaminated foods are killing us silently. People are dying more suffering from diseases caused by these contaminated foods. Cancer, diabetes, kidney and liver related diseases are seen common in city areas. People are suffering malnutrition and becoming over fatty as a consequence of food contamination. In near future, if the situation continues, food contamination related diseases will be epidemic everywhere. And that will be too late to control for sure.
Contamination of food can be happened at any stage during its production, growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping, preparing, packing, marketing etc. Whose responsibility is this to check that the foods we are eating do not contain any contaminated substance? Who will guard the farmers, exporters, dealers and businessmen from mixing up poisons with our loving foods? Is it the sole duty of consumers to come to market with a formalin or chemical checking kit to save their beloved life? Truly government is entrusted to assure the safe and hygienic foods for everyone. But regretfully our ruling government is beating the bush now with a view to public eye wash. Occasionally our government launches some operations to seize contaminated foods from different city markets but hardly have we seen our government to initiate any operations to catch the perpetrators behind the scene. Reportedly the people responsible for food contamination are supported and sheltered by the leaders of ruling party. The degree of food contamination, we face here, perhaps is the highest in the world. Government’s negligence and detachment are causing this problem to rise dramatically. Farmers, exporters, dealers and businessmen, who do mix up these toxic chemicals with foods, may be opposite to murder bur they are committing murder of a large number of unsuspected people. This is a question of their integrity and responsibility for the society.
“Public Health and Morality”isguaranteed in Article 18 of our constitution which mandates the state to ensure the standard level of nutrition and improvement of public health. Article 18 further obliges the state to adopt effective measures to prevent the consumption of alcoholic and other intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health. Apart from the right to food described in Article 15 of the constitution, which has no enforceability in court, Article 32 guarantees right to life. The established interpretation of right to life by the apex court of Bangladesh and other leading legal systems is that life does not mean a mere existence in the earth rather it means a comprehensive and hygienic life free from food and environmental hazards. If our life is endangered by our foods then we cannot say our right to life is protected.
Bangladesh has various laws concerning food security, to say,Fish and Fish Product Rules (1997), theRadiation Protection Act (1987) and Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance (1959).Further the government is set to create the Bangladesh Food Safety and Quality Control Authority to boost control of street food and to criminalize unsafe food handling Under the National Food Safety and Quality Act 2013. But our laws hardly see the light to leave a room of hope for public. The conduct of government seems that either it has no responsibility at all for implementing these laws or implementation is an optional duty.
Should we be deaf and dumb after seeing the government’s long detachment and indifference regarding the food safety of the people?Should we let our countrymen forward to the destruction? We should make mass consensusto oblige the government to ensure safe food for all. Individually we should keep our eyes open to check that our everyday meals are not contaminated by any harmful substances. We should boycott the businessmen and brands who are involved with the intoxication of food.