Food Adulteration and Climate Change

This has been published by Dhaka Tribune on 7th September 2014. Publishing any part of this article anywhere else, without the explicit consent of the author, is strictly prohibited.

What is common between the Earth and Paradise? The Forbidden Fruit—the tempting red apple. According to Biblical sources, Adam and Eve’s consumption of the Forbidden Fruit resulted in the downfall of humanity from a heavenly abode to the Earth’s humble ground. If food adulteration continues without the public and the responsible authorities batting an eyelid, a man-made doom will not be too far away. We will be evicted from Earth due to the Forbidden Fruit—toxic apples—except that in this case the perpetrators will not be brought to account and there shall be no fiery dungeons awaiting them. With World Food Day (16th October) being a little over a month away, can we expect to mark the day with specific, workable plans for curbing food adulteration?

Food adulteration is a form of food wastage at the production level. Food is adulterated with formalin, DDT, calcium carbide, textile dyes, urea, brick powder, and the likes which are known to cause cancer, hypoxia, memory loss, mood disturbances, liver failure, and several other health problems. According to a recent study by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (UNFAO), 54% of the world’s food wastage occurs during production and storage, while the remainder happens during processing, distribution, and consumption. Furthermore, every year roughly one-third of food is wasted, which amounts to the whole food produce of sub-Saharan Africa!

Food wastage has multiple consequences. From the social perspective, it leads to a loss of human effort and contributes to a growing population of hungry, emaciated citizens. One in every seven people in the world goes to bed hungry and more than 20,000 children under the age of five die daily from hunger. From the environmental standpoint, food waste means a waste of all natural and scarce resources, especially water, that assist food production. Additionally, when wasted food is thrown away and breaks down in landfill along with other organic materials, it generates methane, a gas 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, which makes it a catalyst for climate change.

What does food adulteration imply for Bangladesh? An estimated 98% of the world’s hungry lives in developing nations. Since Bangladesh is a developing nation that is the 9th most populous country and the 12th most densely populated country in the world, food management is critical. Waste Database of Bangladesh in 2013 revealed that food and vegetable wastes comprise of approximately 68% of urban solid wastes. Parallel to that, at least 27% of the population is ‘undernourished,’ which is defined by UNFAO as ‘not having access to adequate amounts of safe, nutritious food to sustain a healthy and productive life.’ This was a significant progress from the 38% recorded in the early 1990s. However, rapid population growth, dwindling land resources, increasing global food prices, and food wastage are contributing to the under-nutrition.

Food waste is one factor that is both a cause and an effect of climate change. Floods and droughts damage the country’s crops, harvest potential, and soil fertility. This also works as a motivation for farmers and suppliers to adulterate food. The food wasted as a result of this in turn emits methane, propelling climate change. According to Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), a national development organization operating in Bangladesh, the food adulteration ranges between 70% and 90%. Health practitioners assert this is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. Although the issue is receiving media attention only recently, the problem existed for close to a decade now, as proven by a 2004 random survey by Public Health Laboratory of Dhaka City Corporation which discovered more than 76% of food items on the market adulterated.

Numerous laws exist in Bangladesh, such as the BSTI Ordinance; the National Health Policy 2000; the Bangladesh Pure Food (Amendment) Act 2005; and the National Food Policy Plan of Action 2008-15 (NFPPoA). If we were to dissect just one of these, we find that one of the three objectives of the NFPPoA is adequate nutrition for all individuals, which provides for the supply of safe quality food. In the short run, it proposes raising awareness and instituting safe food vending systems. In the long run, it recommends strengthening food testing laboratories; developing food standards in compliance with Codex Alimentarius; and enforcement of the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point to control food adulteration. The responsibility of implementing these proposed strategies lies with various ministries, such as the Ministries of Agriculture; Food and Disaster Management; and Health and Family Welfare. Political commitment, therefore, is crucial. NGOs are expected to collaborate with the government for implementation while academic institutions are entrusted with scientific research for developing the necessary food standards.

Moreover, the following steps must be taken with utmost urgency: a. Making Bangladesh Food Safety Advisory Council functional b. Passing and approving the Safe Food Law drafted in 2013 c. Integrating BSTI laws with other laws, such as the Bangladesh Pure Food (Amendment) Act 2005, enforced by the government d. Establishing a separate consumer court for dealing with violation of consumer rights e. Reaching out to farmers, manufacturers, and suppliers with educational materials about food adulteration and climate change f. Enforcing Consumer Rights Protection Ordinance 2007 g. Enforcing the appropriate punishment for offenders swiftly

Food adulteration is a violation of basic human rights as citizens are denied the pleasure of consuming safe and nutritious food. Food adulteration is also the deliberate starvation and poisoning of human beings, amounting to genocide. This practice must rattle the public and the government at once.