To­wards Safe Food

The Sindh Food Author­ity seeks to pro­tect the peo­ple from sub-stan­dard food items by en­forc­ing strict food safety laws.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Huza­ima Bukhari & Dr. Ikra­mul Haq

There are chances that food may be­come more hy­gienic for the peo­ple of Sindh.

Food safety in­volves ev­ery­body in the food chain.” —Mike Jo­hanns, United States Sen­a­tor from Ne­braska (2009 to 2015).

The East, es­pe­cially In­dia and Pak­istan, is known for its hospi­tal­ity where food is the prime fo­cus of ev­ery­day life. Whether it is a happy oc­ca­sion or a fu­neral, the thought that oc­cu­pies ev­ery­body con­cerns what food should be of­fered. Even if there is no par­tic­u­lar event, get­ting to­gether for a tête-à-tête in­volves the in­take of del­i­ca­cies.

In Pak­istan where modes of en­ter­tain­ment for the pub­lic are scarce, the most con­ve­nient and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble source is that of an eatery — whether a small dhaba (road­side kiosk) or a five-star restau­rant. For large scale wed­dings and other im­por­tant oc­ca­sions, in­nu­mer­able cater­ers — serve food as their bread and but­ter and can be found all over the coun­try. Be­sides, the need to have daily nu­tri­tion is also a bi­o­log­i­cal re­quire­ment with­out which no hu­man be­ing can func­tion prop­erly nor main­tain a healthy life. In more sim­ple terms, for a healthy na­tion, the sig­nif­i­cance of a healthy diet can­not En­sur­ing Food Safety

be de­nied.

For a healthy diet, it be­comes im­per­a­tive that all food prod­ucts whether agri­cul­tur­ally pro­duced or pro­cessed, should meet the in­ter­na­tional stan­dards of safety as laid down by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion ( WHO). This places tremen­dous im­por­tance on food safety as this be­comes a pub­lic health pri­or­ity. Ac­cord­ing to WHO, un­safe food poses global health threats, en­dan­ger­ing ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing in­fants, young chil­dren, preg­nant women, the el­derly and those with chronic dis­eases since they are more vul­ner­a­ble than oth­ers. Im­proper food in­take cre­ates a vi­cious cy­cle of di­ar­rhea and mal­nu­tri­tion. The prob­lem is that food can be­come con­tam­i­nated at any time in be­tween pro­duc­tion and distribution and yet again be im­prop­erly pre­pared or cooked or mis­han­dled in homes, mar­kets or com­mer­cial cen­tres. Prac­tices of adopt­ing ba­sic hy­giene care in han­dling and pre­par­ing food items are in­te­gral to en­sur­ing food safety.

The Pun­jab Food Author­ity (PFA) un­der the Pun­jab Food Author­ity Act, 2011 be­came the first such author­ity to come into ex­is­tence in Pak­istan. Its var­i­ous func­tions in­clude reg­u­lat­ing and mon­i­tor­ing the food busi­ness to en­sure com­pli­ance by farm­ers, man­u­fac­tur­ers, dis­trib­u­tors, im­porters and other stake­hold­ers; for­mu­lat­ing stan­dards, pro­ce­dures, pro­cesses and guide­lines in re­la­tion to any as­pect of food, in­clud­ing food busi­ness, food la­belling, food ad­di­tives and spec­i­fy­ing ap­pro­pri­ate en­force­ment sys­tems; en­force­ment of food safety and qual­ity stan­dards; spec­i­fy­ing pro­ce­dures and guide­lines for set­ting up and upgra­da­tion and es­tab­lish­ment of food lab­o­ra­to­ries; pro­vid­ing sci­en­tific ad­vice and tech­ni­cal sup­port to the gov­ern­ment in mat­ters re­lat­ing to food safety, etc.

So far, the Pun­jab ex­pe­ri­ence has been quite en­cour­ag­ing as re­flected in the quar­terly re­ports, with the cul­prits taken to task and oth­ers forced to im­prove their work­ing. Ir­re­spec­tive of the crit­i­cism it at­tracted, vig­or­ous cam­paigns were ini­ti­ated by the PFA to crack down on any­body in­dulging in ac­tiv­i­ties in ut­ter vi­o­la­tion of the act and rules. More than sixty mil­lion ru­pees worth of penal­ties were im­posed; 463 suc­cess­ful op­er­a­tions against mafias en­gaged in the busi­ness of im­pure or sub­stan­dard foods were car­ried out; 2.600 food spec­i­mens were sent to lab­o­ra­to­ries for tests; com­pared to 20,000 in­spec­tions in the first ten months of 2016, there was re­port­edly a 450% rise in 2017; hun­dreds of fac­to­ries were sealed; cases against se­vere adul­ter­ators were filed while some were ac­tu­ally ar­rested. In ad­di­tion to these mea­sures, train­ing pro­grammes for 6,000 food work­ers were launched in 5 dis­tricts of Pun­jab.

Tak­ing a clue from Pun­jab, the Sindh gov­ern­ment passed the Sindh Foods Act, 2016 in March 2017 un­der which the Sindh Food Author­ity (SFA) was formed to be headed by the food min­is­ter and com­pris­ing 16 mem­bers — 7 bu­reau­crats, 3 provin­cial law­mak­ers, one rep­re­sen­ta­tive each of the Karachi Cham­ber of Com­merce & In­dus­try, food op­er­a­tors, food in­dus­try and con­sumers, a food tech­nol­o­gist and any other mem­ber/re­spec­tive com­mis­sioner as co-opted by the gov­er­nor. The con­sti­tu­tion of the SFA was ap­pre­ci­ated by the me­dia.

The law al­lows a food safety of­fi­cer to ini­ti­ate action against any per­son who man­u­fac­tures, stores, sells, dis­trib­utes, im­ports or ex­ports any food item which is not of stan­dard or mis­branded. The said per­son could be li­able to im­pris­on­ment for a term up to six months and/or fine, which may ex­tend to one mil­lion ru­pees or both.

The law would also ap­ply to those who man­u­fac­ture or process or keep food un­der un­hy­gienic or un­san­i­tary con­di­tions. Such per­sons would also be li­able to im­pris­on­ment of up to six months and fine of up to one mil­lion ru­pees or both. In case of false war­ranty, the per­son could be li­able to six months im­pris­on­ment or fine of up to Rs. 500,000 or both. In case of in­jury or death of a con­sumer due to un­safe food, the court, in ad­di­tion to any other penalty un­der this law, may di­rect the food op­er­a­tor to pay com­pen­sa­tion to the con­sumer or, as the case may be, the le­gal heirs of the con­sumer an amount which is not less than one mil­lion ru­pees in case of com­plete dis­abil­ity or death; or not ex­ceed­ing Rs. 500,000 in case of par­tial dis­abil­ity or in­jury.

This long over­due move by the Sindh gov­ern­ment will def­i­nitely breathe fresh life in the safety of the food sit­u­a­tion in the province. It is hoped that the SFA will fol­low in the foot­steps of PFA and help to es­tab­lish an im­pu­rity free, hy­gienic and clean en­vi­ron­ment where vict­ual lovers can en­joy their favourite dishes, snacks and bev­er­ages with full con­fi­dence. How­ever, on a note of cau­tion, the SFA should work with the food in­dus­try to build and main­tain ad­e­quate food sys­tems and in­fra­struc­tures (e.g. lab­o­ra­to­ries) to re­spond to and man­age food safety risks along the en­tire food chain and in­clud­ing dur­ing emer­gen­cies.

The SFA needs to fos­ter mul­ti­sec­toral col­lab­o­ra­tion among pub­lic health, an­i­mal health, agri­cul­ture and other sec­tors for bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion and joint action. It must in­te­grate food safety into broader food poli­cies and pro­grammes (e.g. nu­tri­tion and food se­cu­rity) and han­dle and pre­pare food safely, prac­tic­ing the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food at home, or when sell­ing at restau­rants or at lo­cal mar­kets. The SFA also needs to grow fruits and veg­eta­bles us­ing the WHO Five Keys to Grow­ing Safer Fruits and Veg­eta­bles to de­crease mi­cro­bial con­tam­i­na­tion.

The ef­fi­cacy of the SFA de­pends on col­lec­tive ef­forts of its ma­chin­ery and pub­lic. These agen­cies can­not suc­ceed un­less they en­sure pub­lic sup­port and con­tin­u­ously launch cam­paigns for food stan­dards and safety. For checks and suc­cess­ful prose­cu­tions, they need to work in close li­ai­son with rel­e­vant agen­cies on a na­tional level such as the Pak­istan Coun­cil of Sci­en­tific and In­dus­trial Re­search (PCSIR). The PCSIR Lab­o­ra­to­ries Com­plex in Karachi has ex­cel­lent fa­cil­i­ties for test­ing of all kinds of prod­ucts. The SFA should take ran­dom sam­ples from man­u­fac­tur­ing units and food out­lets and get test re­ports from the PCSIR to de­tect adul­ter­ation and other im­pu­ri­ties, like use of harm­ful ma­te­ri­als, es­pe­cially preser­va­tives and ar­ti­fi­cial colours that can have dis­as­trous ef­fects on hu­man be­ings. The writ­ers, au­thors, lawyers and part­ners in HUZA­IMA & IKRAM, are Ad­junct Fac­ulty at La­hore Univer­sity of Man­age­ment Sci­ences (LUMS).

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.