Foul and contaminatedGovt should tighten the Food Act and take strict actions against the perpetrators
Last week, the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) found packaged milk sold in Kathmandu adulterated with chemical contaminants such as washing soda and detergent chemicals. During its recent market monitoring, the department collected samples of 42 packets of packaged milk from 25 different milk processing industries and found presence of harmful chemicals like Bicarbonate, Sodium Hydroxide (Caustic soda) and Sodium Carbonate used as neutraliser. Although producers claim that chemicals like caustic soda are used to prevent the milk from curdling, responsible authorities need to take immediate action against traders involved in sensitive issues related to the people’s health.
Processed milk is among the four most commonly adulterated products along with drinking water, cooking oil and vegetable ghee. Nepal Food Act 1967 is the primary legislation governing food safety in Nepal. Selling contaminated, substandard food count as misconduct under the existing Food Act 1967. To broaden the definition of food and bring more types of malpractices in food trade under the Act’s purview, new Food Act was drafted 4 months ago. But the draft was rejected by the Ministry of Law.
According to a 2016/17 annual report of the DFTQC, among the 2,865 food and feed samples collected as per the Food and Feed Act during market inspection of 47 different districts, 12.74 percent of the samples were found to be of substandard quality. The DFTQC under the Ministry of Agriculture is the major government institution responsible for safety and quality management. Its major regulatory activity is to enforce the food act. But it is striking that under the department, there are only three full time food inspectors in the valley.
The issue of substandard and contaminated food in the market has been a chronic one in Nepal. Adulterated or substandard food is a risk to public health and therefore a serious matter. Although government crackdowns have increased over the years, government agencies lack teeth and sincerity when it comes to punishing those involved in selling substandard food. Food inspectors book a few shop owners and firms and slap fines on them, and after some time, the adulterators go back to their old business. No serious measures have been initiated to check the proliferation of adulterated and substandard food, leaving thousands of people at the mercy of profit-hungry traders.
The concept of business, at least in part, is based on the trust between the consumers and the sellers. Consumers need to be more aware and avoid establishments that are dishonest. The DFTQC has started implementing good manufacturing practice (GMP) at six dairies in the Kathmandu Valley is a welcome step but the drive should be sustainable. Also there is a need for rigorous follow-up in entire value chain to ensure effectiveness of the system. Further, the government should set up laboratories capable of measuring contamination of chemicals in milk and water. While the state has the primary obligation to prosecute foul practices, social pressure combined with business losses too can incentivise good behaviour.