At least eight children, all aged between two to six years, in Dinajpur died in three weeks in the last month due to excessive use of pesticides in litchi orchards, an investigation by the Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) found. The IEDCR findings came amid allegations of use of pesticides by farmers many times higher than the permissible limits. Dinajpur, famous for the juicy summer fruit, produces 15 per cent of the litchis grown in the country each year. The district grew litchis on 4,100 hectares of land this year, 1,000 hectares more than the previous year. “This is the season of litchi and many farmers spray excessive pesticides in litchi orchards. A large number of litchis that fall from the trees are left strewn on the ground and children, who usually pick and eat the fruit, are affected. Already 8 of them died and we found the existence of pesticide elements in more 46 children’s bodies,” IEDCR director Professor Mahmudur Rahman told the press.
The Dinajpur Medical College Hospital paediatric department head MA Wares confirmed the eight deaths linked to litchi; a total of 11 such cases were recorded by the department from June 2 to June 20. All the victims were admitted to the hospital with the same symptoms.
The tragic Dinajpur deaths suggest that the excessive use of pesticides and toxic chemicals is quite common among the farmers in the country. The use of harmful chemicals does not end at the farmer’s level. The middle men, who collect the vegetables and fruits from the farmers, use more harmful chemicals to keep different fruits, vegetables and food items ‘fresh’. The situation is becoming worse day by day. It seems that the government and its monitoring authorities have no control over the matter. It is the holy month of Ramadan. This is the most precious and expected month for the Muslims. During this month people of our country usually try to consume better food items so that the day long fast can’t affect their bodies. But, unfortunately they are experiencing different incidents of food adulteration during this very month. The newspapers have dubbed it as the ‘silent killer’. It is very difficult to find a sector of the food industry, which is free of adulteration. From raw vegetables to fruits, milk, milk made products, fish, meat, processed food and so on, all the items are treated with various chemicals. Almost every day newspapers report on new methods of adulterating different types of food items.
Carbide, formalin, textile colours, artificial sweeteners, DDT, urea, etc. are used rampantly for this purpose. Formalin is applied to fish for preservation, calcium carbide on fruits to ripen before time, brick dust in chili powder, urea to whiten rice and puffed rice, sawdust in loose tea, soap is used in ghee and artificial sweetener while coal tar and textile dyes are used in sweetmeats. Formalin is also applied to fruit, meat and milk. Poisonous colouring agents like Auramine, Rhodomine-b, Malachite green, Yellow-g, Allura red, and Sudan red are applied on food items for colouring, brightness, and freshness. Colouring agents Chrome, Tartzine, and Erythrosine are used in spices, sauces lentils, and oils. At present in Bangladesh, juice and fruit drinks are totally unsafe as toxic chemicals like Chrome, Tartzine, and Erythrosine are often used in juice. Rye flour is used in Barley, bread and wheat flour. Hormone is used in Cauliflower.
Agino Moto or Monosodium Glutamate is used in Chinese restaurant food items. Sulfuric acid is used in milk. Burnt engine oil is used to fry Jilapi, while artificial fragrance is applied on flowers.
Many food makers process and prepare food in very unhygienic condition. Most of the food adulteration occurs in the hands of middlemen during the process of transportation and marketing.
We asked Mrs. Lutfun Nahar, Professor, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, University of Dhaka, about the harmful effects of food adulteration on the human body. She replied, “Contamination of foods with toxic chemicals pose a serious threat to public health, especially in a country like Bangladesh where due to poor health literacy, level of awareness is very low. Different chemicals cause different diseases. Copper, Zinc or indigo dye, etc. are mixed with soft drinks (Cola, fruit juice etc.). Though the effects of these dyes are not apparent but they may cause cancer in the long run. Amylum is one kind of complex starch (indigestible). It is used to thicken the sauces. It is injurious to health. Cane sugar is used to adulterate honey. It causes obesity, diabetes. It also may cause harmful effect like damage to nerve and eyes. Urea is used routinely with rice prior to parch so that it becomes whiter. Urea is also used as a preservative to preserve fish, meat and vegetable items. When a person eats such food for a long time he/she become obese and can get skin rashes. In more dangerous scenario kidney damage or liver damage might happen. Formalin, the aqueous solution of formaldehyde, is used in the kitchen market to preserve fish, meat, fruits; milk and milk made products. It causes cough, respiratory distress, diarrhoea and chronic consumption of these foods will cause kidney or liver failure even cancer. Chronic ingestion of such food by pregnant women may cause congenital anomalies and mental retardation of the baby. Calcium Carbide, another toxic chemical, is used in crackers. The dishonest businessmen use the calcium carbide to ripen the fruit commonly mango, banana, papaya, pineapple etc. It can affect the health seriously.
Ethopen is used to ripen the pineapple. Here the Ethopen gas is sprayed to the body of pineapple in the field. Just after finishing the spray the pineapples are collected and shipped for marketing. After couple of days the pineapples reach the consumers it become ripened and get an attractive colour. It is also used to ripe the Papaya, Banana, Tomato, Jackfruit etc. Organs like liver and kidney are commonly damaged by this toxic agent.”
According to Professor Lutfun Nahar the list of toxic chemicals used in our country is much longer. She mentioned only about a few! She opined that if the government and its respective authorities don’t take serious action against such misdeeds and our mass health will face a huge challenge. She also requested the government to form non-bailable law to punish the perpetrators related to food adulteration.As Professor Lutfun Nahar recommended about creating more powerful law, we thought that the existing laws are not enough to prevent food adulteration. We asked Dr. Md. Nazrul Islam, Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Dhaka to tell us about the existing laws to prevent food contamination. His answer just astonished us, as he said, “In our country we have a great number of laws. There are at least 15 laws to prevent food adulteration in the country, including Penal Code, 1860, Control of Essential Commodities Act, 1956, Food (Special Courts) Act, 1956, Pure Food Ordinance, 1959, Pesticide Ordinance, 1971, Special Powers Act, 1974, Fish and Fish Products (Inspection and Control), Ordinance, 1983, Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution Ordinance 1985, Vokta Odhikar Songrokkhon Ain, 2009, Stanio Sarkar (City Corporation) Ain, Stanio Sarkar (Paurashava) Ain, 2009, Mobile Court Ain, 2009 and The Food Safety Act 2013. Moreover, the government has strengthened the Mobile Court Act recently.
I think the law is not the problem, the problem is in the implementation of them.”
On the occasion of Ramadan, businesses of ready made iftar items have spread all around the country. Seasonal iftar items producers don’t care about anything they just prepare a few iftar items and sell them from their roadside shops. In most of the cases these iftar products are prepared in an unhygienic condition. They use old and burnt oil, harmful colours and unclean ingredients to cook these iftar items. BSTI, Dhaka South City Corporation, Dhaka North City Corporation and Dhaka Metropolitan Police are operating mobile courts and trying to punish the culprits related to food adulteration. We had a perception that the roadside shops are only involved with food adulteration. But the mobile courts have proven that many reputed fast food shops and restaurants are also responsible to trouble the mass health in our country. A mobile court of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) on 22 June fined branches of KFC, Pizza Hut and Boomers in Baily Road. The magistrate fined KFC on charges of selling date expired goods and using adulterated oil in different food items while Pizza Hut was fined for using two chemicals, bolognaise sauce seasoning and extreme seasoning, which have no BSTI approval and license. He also fined Boomers on charges of keeping rotten meat and adulterated food items in the refrigerator. Authorities continue to operate and punish the perpetrators in a regular basis. But, the numbers of the mobile courts are not adequate compared to the unhealthy food shops.
According to World Health Organization and Food and Agricultural Organization, food is considered safe if there is reasonable certainty that no harm will result from its consumption. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food is also known as one of the most important aspect of basic necessities of mass people. Unfortunately, food security or the assurance of safe food is facing serious threat in our country. Under the circumstances, law enforcement agencies must play their role to ensure the accountability of the food businessmen. We can expect an adulteration free food system only when our law will create such exemplary punishment of the greedy food traders who don’t bother about the public health so that no one can dare to play with the health and money of the mass people.