Friday, June 2, 2023

Food frauds

Healthcare doesn’t begin with the facilities we are offered at different hospitals. This is actually disease-care. Unfortunately ours is a society that is disease conscious but not health conscious. Health consciousness begins with what we eat and how we live. The source of most of the diseases is our life style, and what contributes most to our health problems is the quality, and kind of food we consume. In our part of the world the way we find the quality of food available in our markets deteriorating, it is bound to create a crisis, if it has not created one already. One can observe that discussions on the status of health in the state have a major theme, and that theme is the quality of food we consume. It is now a known fact that the deterioration in the quality of the food we consume has brought terrible results to fore. Studies show a sharp rise in dangerous diseases like cancer, largely attributed to food. Experts have been underlining the implications of junk and packaged food. What has also come under focus is adulterated food in our markets, which need a strict vigil. Today we are again confronted by this threatening scenario that adulteration, and other ways of compromising quality, in such items is a real problem. Here when we talk of adulteration the first thing that comes to mind is the food. Remember some years back it became a hot topic following detection of Formalin in fish imported into Nagaland and other North Eastern states. Formalin is a cancer-inducing chemical used illegally to preserve fish. Now food adulteration is universal and not confined to India but no other country can beat India because this is a country where everyone has unlimited freedom to indulge in such activities with no possibility of retribution. Though food laws that exist are comparable to international ones, there is very little activity at the ground level to monitor or detect adulterated foods in the market or punish the guilty. So is our system adulterated to combat such adulteration? It’s surprising that fraudsters are always one step ahead of the safety agencies when it comes to detecting adulteration. Their techniques are increasingly becoming more and more sophisticated with time. Food frauds literally constitute a high tech industry because of enormous economic gains inherent in adulteration. Food adulteration is a growing problem with rampant instances of adulteration of even essential food commodities such as milk and spices. The problem seems to be getting deadlier by the day. While there are reports of inventing synthetic milk and, synthetic egg, we have experienced firsthand of fruits like mangoes and banana being ripened with calcium carbide in Dimapur a year or two back, and fish being made to appear fresh with formalin. There is also the case of food prepared in restaurants and bakeries in unhygienic condition in total contravention of the Food Safety Act. Food safety officials did conducted some inspections and penalized some restaurants/bakeries along with warning for contravening the food safety act but no follow up on the action taken report is forthcoming. Earlier reports of unscrupulous elements involved in adulteration of spices with various adulterants, laced with dangerous dyes, raised some alarm, besides the fruits like mangoes and banana being ripened with calcium carbide, and fish being made to appear fresh with formalin. The concerned departments also took some actions against those involved in such unscrupulous activity. In this action huge quantities of adulterated food items were seized and destroyed. Unfortunately everything is back where it was and business of adulterated food is become usual as we don’t follow things to logical conclusions. The thing is we, particularly the authorities, tend to believe that such instances to be an isolated case of adulteration. And that is where we go wrong. This clearly shows that agencies like food safety cell, drug controller, health officers and other inspection teams constituted for inspection/checking etc are not performing their duties effectively. Here it needs no reminder that the food items available in our markets pose a threat to our health, and the concerned authorities will have draw a comprehensive plan to weed out the unwanted elements from the food shelves in our markets.