Adulteration has by now become a chronic disease of the society. Even the Prime Minister has recently come up with the request to the businessmen to avoid adulteration in fish so as to avoid losing prospect of the country’s vast resources.
In fact, we, as a nation, have become a kind of hostage to the adulterators or the poison-mongers. News of adulteration in new commodities is turning up almost regularly.
In a recent test conducted by Institute of Public Health Bangladesh, adulteration has been found in all 43 consumer goods. In them, the average rate of the adulteration was 40 per cent and nearly 100 per cent adulteration was found in 13 items among the 43 consumer goods tested. Indeed, there is a feast of adulteration all around resulting in consumption of poison day in and day out.
Some years back, a study claimed that presence of toxic elements (9.7 microgram) in our blood far outweighs the tolerable amount (0.2 microgram) of toxicity. Once, machh (fish) and bhath (rice) were so abundant that they were, so to speak, identical with the Bengali. Yes, even many species of fishes are now beyond the reach of many for their exorbitant prices.
Painfully, however, fishes have been turned into virtual death-traps by some unscrupulous traders. There is no reason to think that they are selling these formalin-treated and other poisonous items at a reasonable rate. Rather, we are buying death or deadly diseases and that, too, at a very high price.
Reportedly, a great amount of the fish available in the markets is treated with formalin and other toxic chemicals. The same is the case with many other food items from various types of fruits to milk from even brand producers. Attractive juice, drinks, fast food and what not! News of seizure of adulterated items in even in renowned super shops is not a surprise now. Admittedly, the extravaganza of adulteration reaches its peak in the holy month of Ramadan which left us recently.
Surely, however, adulteration didn’t. Chemicals intended for textile use and lubricants intended for vehicles are being used extensively for making delicious items. Yes, formalin — basically used for preserving dead bodies for a long period — is not being used for preserving fishes only. It is now being increasingly used for preserving other foods items, vegetables and fruits, milk and so on. Unfortunately, the issue seems not to have received the kind of attention it deserves.
A strange sense of benumbed acceptance seems to have become the order of the day. Meanwhile, the physicians are dead certain that formalin-treated fishes and other food items are largely responsible for proliferation of deadly diseases in almost every household. Apart from normal stomach-related diseases, the diseases include skin diseases, renal failure, liver cirrhosis, asthma, cancer and so on.
As per the World Health Organisation and Food & Agriculture Organisation, nearly 45 lakh people in Bangladesh are being infected with various diseases every year. In a recent research of Ministry of Health, food adulteration has been found to be one of the major reasons behind the alarming increase of cancer, liver and kidney diseases in Bangladesh.
Yes, even looking at formalin-treated fishes can cause damage to the corneas. Inhalation can cause lung and throat cancer while touching it can cause incurable skin diseases. Thus, the formalin-users in fishes are also susceptible to its damaging effects. Though the diseases like diarrhoea and dysentery can be diagnosed and treated rather quickly and easily, the fatal diseases that take time to infect our bodies become really hard to cure in the end — where otherwise avoidable — death or excruciating existence becomes inevitable in most cases.
And, that is why slow-poisoning is all the more fatal. If the corrupt people prevent our attainable rate of progress and create social inequality; if the godfathers create anarchy in the society and take away sense of tranquillity from the minds of general people, then the adulterators are not committing any lesser a crime. They are slowly but surely injecting diseases of grave nature into our bodies and in the process crippling our posterity.
Premature death from incurable or hard-to-cure diseases has also shown signs of increase in the recent years which is, to a degree, attributed to intake of adulterated food items. And, children, too, have shown signs of its devastating effects. Physicians have rightly raised their fingers on food adulteration and toxicity as major factors in increasing number of deformed children. The deformity can be both physical and mental.
Reportedly, the number of physically handicapped and mentally retarded children has increased lately. Only the sufferers know how agonising the lives of such children and their families may be. Though the common people want relief from such a venomous situation, they have few options to resort to. They do not have the mechanism to detect adulteration in the food items.
In a country like Bangladesh fishes are a great source of protein. The same is the case in other food items as well. There is, again, no abundant supply of other food items that they can stay away from fishes. This is not a new story that food-related businessmen resorted to strikes in protest against anti-adulteration drives. In this land of teeming millions, the masses are a sort of captive to the traders. And, capitalising on this demand, some traders are playing with the lives of the people.
The government is pretty serious about the matter and has enacted various laws to hold back food adulteration. Among them, Consumer Rights Protection Act, Food Safety Act, Formalin Control Act, with a provision of life-term imprisonment as the maximum punishment, are most noticeable. Of late, the government cancelled licences of 20 pharmaceutical companies for producing adulterated and low-quality medicines.
The anti-adulteration drives at times, especially by the magistrates, are highly appreciable. However, it is difficult to say that the traders have stopped their lethal business of adulteration after being punished. Reportedly, many revert to former tricks even after being punished. In fact, a vicious cycle of adulteration seems to have developed which needs to be debunked through rigorous governmental actions and social awareness.
On no grounds can the adulterators be shown leniency. If the people are forced to take in adulterated food items constantly, there will not be enough healthy and intelligent people left or forthcoming to represent a sane and sound society in the near future. The government has been successful in many of its endeavours. Unfortunately, however, adulteration seems to have become an indomitable monster! Thus, zero tolerance against adulteration is the prime need of the hour.
The writer is a Professor, Department of
Public administration, Chittagong University