Maswood Alam Khan
Whenever you get frustrated by any non-cooperation from any quarter you may well quell to an extent your sense of defeat if you croon the song Jodi tor dakshune keu naashe, tobe eklacholo re [If no one answers to your call [to accompany you], you better walk alone – the famous song Rabindranath Tagore composed that was published back in 1905.
Tagore’s advice on ‘walking alone’ is now very appropriate for the private sector to follow in Bangladesh when the government is notoriously deaf to our shouts to clear the mountains of problems we all are facing. We should stop calling for government help to solve our problems. We should rather take in our own hands our own tools to remove all our pains and perils on our own, at individual or collective levels.
One such peril that is killing our people is adulteration of foods, drinks and medicines. The number of people afflicted by cancer and other chronic diseases due to taking of adulterated foods has of late gone up to such an alarming level that some people have even stopped buying many essential nutritious foods and vegetables other than, for mere survival, some basic food grains that they assume are not adulterated.
The other day, participants in a human chain, jointly organized by Paribesh Bachao Andolan (PBA) and Nagarik Odhikar Sangrakkhan (NOS), in front of the Faculty of Fine Arts of Dhaka University demanded exemplary punishment for those involved in food adulterations which are silently killing people. Organizers of the human chain also demanded formulation of a permanent body to ensure food safety, life-term imprisonment for people involved in food adulteration, regular mobile court drives at food storages and factories and a monitoring cell to collect information from people about food adulteration.
Given the present frightening scale of adulterations, the demands placed by the protesters are genuine and very much timely and the proposals they suggested are also excellent. But, their demands and suggestions will for sure go in one ear of the government and out the other. Why should they then rant and rave about adulterations when they know well their screams and complaints will fall on deaf ears?
Scores of reports have been published, hundreds of workshops held and thousands of articles written on how adulteration of foods is crippling and killing us but to no avail. Activists and thinkers appealed to the government to deploy their law enforcement agencies to check the menace. But all have been in vain because our law enforcers have other jobs to safeguard their own jobs; they have to remain alert guarding the political interests of whatever the party is in power. Arresting food or medicine adulterators and, for that matter, safeguarding any public rights or safeties is not their hot cup of tea.
So, there’s no point in getting angry with the government or in urging any of the government machineries to do something to save us from the curse of adulterations. Let’s forget what our government can do. Let’s rather find out how we privately can help ourselves in fighting the killers. A war for pure foods and medicines must soon be declared in Bangladesh at private levels. Adulteration of foods and medicines has reached such crisis proportions that any measure short of a war may not be effective to save people from dying from taking impurities.
There are many ways we can adopt to fight against adulterators. Organizations like Paribesh Bachao Andolan (PBA) and Nagarik Odhikar Sangrakkhan (NOS) can mobilize public opinions and create funds from donations to make portable “Test Kits” that can be used for chemical testing of food products, if not of medicines. A group of dedicated volunteers, composed of brilliant chemistry students, may come up with simple devices that can readily detect impurities in fish, meat, vegetables and other canned foods and drinks. The device should be as simple as that which is used to test sugar levels of a diabetic patient. The “Test Kits” will carry those devices for spot checking of adulterations. The volunteers equipped with those “Test Kits” may then encamp near the markets selling fish, meat and vegetables. A shopper, I can guarantee, will not buy any food items that won’t be examined by those volunteers and the sellers may thus be obliged to get their salable food items checked by those volunteers, for free or for a small fee.
There is also a business potential in the proposed private war against adulterations. A First-Aid Kit, for instance, is nowadays a common household item found mounted on the walls of many homes. The First-Aid Kit contains emergency medicines and instruments. Like the First-Aid Kit, a Food Test Kit may also be popular to many households in Bangladesh. An intelligent entrepreneur with a vision can mass-produce two types of Food Test Kits — one for home use and the other for commercial use. Any bank, I believe, will be encouraged to offer finance for such an ingenious project. Of course, a pharmaceutical company may also open a subsidiary to produce such Food Test Kits.
I have not seen anything called Food Test Kit in America as such. But, what encouraged me to think about such a Food Test Kit were many kinds of Test Kits I found on the shelves of Home Depot outlets, hardware stores, pharmacy chains, supermarkets, and specialty outlets in USA. Those kits come with simple do-it-yourself testing devices to detect the presence of harmful chemicals, gases and substances inside homes and offices. Contriving Food Test Kits to detect formalin in fish or fertilizers in vegetables, for instances, I guess, should not be very difficult for our scientists to produce in Bangladesh.
Pathological laboratories are doing a roaring business in Bangladesh because they are related to medical treatments. Similarly, large-scale chain laboratories in the private sectors to test foods may also be a successful microbiological business, because they would prevent diseases, if small labs are opened in each market where retailers may be legally obliged to get their produces checked, certified and seal-packed to create confidence in the mind of shoppers for buying certified adulteration-free products.
State-of-the-art microbiology mobile laboratories are operated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test and analyses food products picked right from the farms and factories so that no adulterated food items, drinks or contaminated vegetables can enter the retail food shops.
During the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi, London-based food quality certification agency TQS Global Management System had operated mobile testing vans to check foods and drinks of different restaurants and eateries in Delhi as part of a program dubbed “Safe Food Destination” (SFD). Inspired by the success of the program Indian government is introducing mobile laboratories to test foods in different markets with a view to checking adulterations.
Such mobile food testing laboratories rushing to different markets and checking for adulterations—like those mobile libraries of Bishwa Shahittya Kendra spreading knowledge—in the private sectors, if not in public sector, will be a good scene for us to savor and may give a great relief to Bangladeshis now suffering from diseases due to rampant food adulterations.