Food law has little meaning without access
Sabrina Zarin :
Food is counted as safe, if it is safe and hygienic to eat and drink and when it comes with a guarantee that it shall not create harm to the consumers. Unfortunately, food safety has become an important subject as consumers in Bangladesh have become victim of serious adulteration in food. The food safety and quality in Bangladesh is managed by various statutory government agencies under different ministries. They aim at abolishing food adulteration from Bangladesh and want to ensure food safety and quality from the farm to the fork.
In Bangladesh the current law on the subject matter is The Food Safety Act 2013 (hereinafter referred to as "The Food Act") wherein provisions have been made for the establishment of an efficient and effective authority and for regulating the activities relating to food production, import, processing, stock, supply, marketing and sales, to ensure the rights toward access to safe food. All previous laws and regulations have been repealed and reenacted to construct the current law.
Definition of food: Food can be defined in many ways in many places around the world. Generally, food is something which contains nutrients, such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, that can be ingested by a living organism and metabolized into energy and body tissue.
According to section 2(3) of the Food Act- "Food" means any edible substance, whether processed, partially processed or unprocessed, which are edible by chewing, sucking or licking such as food grains, pulses, fish, meat, milk, eggs, edible oil, fruits, vegetables, etc. or by drinking such as-normal water, aerated water, carbonated water, energy drink, etc. and also includes such other ingredient or raw material that is used during food production and food process as a nutrient for human survival, and for enhancing nutrition and protecting health. The definition of food also extends to flavoring colours and preservatives but does not include drugs or herbal medicine, narcotics and cosmetics.
What is adulteration?
Generally, Adulteration is a term meaning that a food product does not meet the standard health and safety criteria. Mixing of chemicals like formalin to a food item to keep fish fresh and makes fruits like mangoes look attractive, which may result in the loss of actual quality of food the item.
Section 2(29) of the Food Act defines "adulterated food" which states that food or any part which is, with a view to making it coloured, flavoured, preserved, processed or attractive, mixed with such amount of ingredients that is harmful to public health and is prohibited in law and also that impairs the food and diminishes the food value or nutritive qualities of such food from which any of the normal constituents has been wholly or in part abstracted, with it to readily increase its weight or quantity or to make it attractive so as to render it injurious to money or health of the food consumers. Hence, adulteration can be done in different ways which actually is harmful for our bodies.
Objective: In the primitive stage of human life, people used to grow their own food and used more natural resources and use to eat less processed food, therefore the chances of eating adulterated food was very low or even not at all. However, with time and development of human society it has become more modern with technology and science. To sort out this cooking problem and to save time people became very dependent on instant food, ready food and packed food items. Whereas ready foods are not good for health and easily can be adulterated.
Bangladesh experiences many types of food adulterations every day. Food adulteration is a criminal offense as it may lead to human death. It appears that BSTI tried hard to ensure the quality and authenticity of food, however, the tests results were not satisfied and authentic as always. Therefore, The Bangladesh and Testing Institution Ordinance 1985 established the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution for Standardization, authenticity of food. Moreover, BSTI is acceptable by all in Bangladesh.
Reponsibilities: Food manufacturers, producers and business operators related to making any type of food, should be very careful since making of food and till delivery of the food to the consumers, because as it is an offence and it has punishment also according to civil and criminal procedures. Though, sometimes food can be adulterated without any wrong intention, due to carelessness and mistakes but still on account of everything the food manufacturers, producers and business operators should play vital role to produce safe food, because various diseases may occur on account of eating adulterated food, its life threating issue, even its been seen around the society and proven according to medical science than because of having adulated food "a mother can give birth of a crippled child''. Hence, the consequences of having adulterated food is dangerous. Therefore also because of moral ground the people related to food making process should be very careful to ensure safe food and also because as it is a punishable offence in Bangladesh.
Contitutional mandate: Article 15(a) recognizes the fundamental responsibility of the state to secure its citizens the provision of the necessities of life including food
o Article 16 enumerates that rural transformation must be brought through the agricultural revolution
o Article 18 states that the State shall raise the level of nutrition and improve public health as its primary duties
o Articles 31 and 32 enshrine the 'right to life' and personal liberty as a fundamental right
Thus, the constitution of Bangladesh has specifically enshrined the need of food to be secured by the State and it is the responsibility of the Government that they adhere to the needs of people by providing them with access to safe food.
BASIC laws regarding food adulteration: According to The Penal Code, 1860 - Adulteration of food or drink and sale of noxious food or drink has been described as offences punishable with imprisonment for six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand takas, or with both.
The Essentials Articles (Price Control and Anti-Hoarding) Act,1953; The Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956 and The Essential Commodities Act, 1957 - These acts define foods as an essential commodity and provide provision to control food price, production, treatment, keeping, storage, movement, transport, supply, distribution, disposal, acquisition, use or consumption and trade and commerce
the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare having the major responsibility for the enforcement of food control legislation to ensure safe food.
Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution Ordinance, 1985 as amended in 2003 and the Rules 1989 made there under -
Provides for the establishment of an Institution for standardization, testing, metrology, quality control, grading and marking of goods there are currently 151 standards covered by BSTI of which 58 are food standards-enforcement of standards includes removal from market of non-standard products.
The Consumer Rights Protection Act, 2009: State activities that are against consumer's rights provides for the establishment of Consumer Rights Protection Council establishment of District Committee, Upazila Committee and Union Committee establishment of a Department to be headed by DG.
Complaint and filing of suits: Any person, including the consumer of food, consumer, recipient or food, can make a complaint in writing to the Chairman or to the empowered representative or inspector regarding the anti-food operations under this Food Act. Even in Bangladesh, public interest lawyers, environmental lawyers and consumer activists have already brought a number of landmark public interest cases before the High Court Division of the Supreme Court on food rights. According to Section 66 of Food Act of 2013, If the Chairman or any authorized officer or inspector authorized by him, after being informed of any crime occurring under this Act, shall make a suit in the food court, if it is primarily confirmed in respect of the relevant investigations and investigations related to the crime. Section66 (3) notwithstanding anything contained in this section, no person shall file suit in the court of food for any action against safe food within 30 (thirty) days of the birth of the reason for filing a suit under this Act.
According to Food Act of 2013, Section 78 (2) Within 30 (thirty) days of receiving an application the authorities shall give proper guidance to the person who has prepared, marketed or sold that food after conducting necessary administrative inquiry or inquiry into the complaint.
And, if the person is aggrieved by any order under section 78, he may appeal to the Government within 30 (thirty) days, and the government shall take appropriate action to settle the settlement within 60 (sixty days) of the appeal.
Hence, the procedures have been clearly dealt in the Act and what is important is that people should be aware of their rights and the designated authorities needs to implement the actions accordingly and impartially.
Penalties: Many people consider punishment as a part of discipline, whereas food adulteration is a serious offence and the obviously people related to this adulteration should be punished rigidly. Punishment and compensation are available under the Food Act 2013.
Awareness is needed: Awareness is needed to tackle the issue of food safety among consumers and regulatory body. Awareness of importance in hygienic food, bad effects on health of unhygienic food, promoting social awareness about safe food, punishment because of adulteration food and reporting by the private sector and a functioning authority on Food Safety and the Government body could start to tackle this ongoing issue. The law that protects consumers when they enter into contracts has developed piecemeal over time. Before, it was the courts that recognized that a person buying goods has certain clear and justified, but sometimes unspoken, expectations. The courts developed a body of case law which gave buyers rights when these expectations were not met.
These case laws were then made into legislation that protected buyers when buying goods, originally in, The Consumers' Right Protection Act, 2009. There are several pieces of legislation that set out duties on consumers by traders but to ensure effective enforcement of these rights and duties, but the good consumer practices are necessary to further improve Food Safety.
In addition, a proper supply of food and water allows you to lead a better healthy life. It has been demonstrated that knowledge is valuable only if it is transferred into action, therefore, by taking help from The Consumers' Right Protection Act, 2009 and Food Safety Act 2013 consumers can protest wrongdoers to get safe food and water.
(The writer is an Advocate).