Food testing in a mess for shortage of public analysts

THE testing of food, animal feed and fertiliser for compliance with specifications and safety regulations appears to have been mostly ignored since the creation of the position of public analysts, or food analysts, responsible for ensuring the safety and correct description of food, by way of the Pure Food Ordinance 1959, which the Food Safety Act 2013 has now repealed and replaced along with re-enacting relevant outdated laws. The law empowers the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, set up in February 2015 to regulate activities related to food production, import, processing, stockpiling, supplying, marketing and protecting the right to safe food, to appoint as many public analysts as the country needs. The 1959 ordinance provided for the appointment of one or more such analysts at local government institutions, defined as municipalities, other local government organisations and any other authority as empowered by the government. But sadly the country now has two public analysts, one at the Institute of Public Health who runs chemical and microbiological tests on food samples sent by sanitary inspectors from all over the country but the capital and the other at the Dhaka South City Corporation who is responsible for such tests on samples sent by inspectors working in the capital.
While it is essential for authorities to keep watch on food production, import and processing to check against adulteration and the marketing of unsafe food, it is quite impossible for the two public analysts to run chemical and microbiological tests on a huge number of samples that they receive from across the country. The Food Safety Authority, as New Age reported on Friday, does have another analyst, a biochemist of the Institute of Public Health working as BSFA food analyst, but it is difficult for all the three analysts to test thousands of food products for their composition, additives, contamination, accuracy in labelling, public complaint investigation, among other chores such as supporting local authorities and the private sector in various other areas, to establish a modern and technological food safety system. If, keeping to the law, local government institutions need to be armed up with public analysts to achieve this goal, there should be several hundred food analysts as there are 10 city corporations and 323 municipalities in the country. Such a situation only brings up the government’s sheer indifference to public health issues, which further comes back on the government as a burden in the form of an increased healthcare cost.
The government, under the circumstance, must step up the plate in appointing the required number of public analysts, preferably in all local government institutions so that food testing becomes easy, and setting up appropriate laboratories for these people to create a quality system appropriate to the type, range and volume of work through suitable quality assurance measures and the use of validated analytical methods. The Food Safety Authority should also be invigorated to ensure coordination between 12 government agencies looking after food safety.

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