Food is inevitable for human survival; however, in Bangladesh food adulteration posing serious health hazards likewise— children’s mental and physical growth and women’s fertility, cancer, damage liver, kidney etc. because of containing dangerous proportion of chemicals, medicines, preservatives, and colours in food.
A large percentage of our daily consumed foods including fish, milk, meat, fruits, vegetable, rice, pulses, oil, salt, baby foods and even water are adulterated and poisonous whereas safe and nutritious food of good quality prepared under hygienic conditions is essential for human health. Access to safe and nutritious food along with food security is of highest importance in attempts to reduce the dominance of hunger, malnutrition and diseases in Bangladesh. In the stirring of the situation, Bangladesh Government had drafted a ‘Safe Food Act’ 2013 that contained 9 Chapters and 70 articles related to safe food.
Step toward a ‘Safe Food Act’ is undoubtedly a constructive and encouraging march for safe food and right to food. Nevertheless, it contained some loopholes and as such Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) and Action Aid Bangladesh Jointly organized a roundtable discussion titled “People’s Food Security and Safe Food Act (Draft)” on June 8, 2013 in the capital of Bangladesh to press home their demand for the enactment of people’s right to food and safe food act.
Speakers at the Roundtable discussion on “People’s Food Security and Safe Food Act”
There are lots of inconsistencies in the draft act of which some sections did not reflects peoples’ right to have safe food, and food export is not considered as business as well, said the Keynote Speaker. At the same time this act only recognized food consumers and the people related in food business are also not considered as businessmen, he added.
The act should be participatory but there are no provisions to include mass people opinion. Indeed, in article 4(2), which deals with advisory committee, inclusion of specialists, social activities, NGOs are totally ignored. In accordance, in article 10 all power are given to the chairperson who raises the possibility to have authoritarian decisions regarding this issue. In article 13(3) role of coordination committee should be more specified in nature. Article 14 deals with technical panel but how the panel would be selected or elected is not clear. In article 21 it has been said that in certain condition Genetically Modified (GM) foods would be banned, but there should not have any condition rather than ban of GM food. Though article 33 is about appointment of inspector to which implementation of the act depends, there is no direct argument about the role and responsibilities. Article 44 includes bail and compromise. We demand to erase the word compromise from the act. In article 45 the highest punishment of this crime is death sentence, whereas first class magistrate would be appointed in Pure Food Court. Interestingly first class magistrate has not the power to penalize with death sentence. Article 65 deals with exemption from the crime which makes the act meaningless. Finally he included that we already have 15 acts regarding this issue and all these acts are sporadic, herein a coordinated act is essential for better implementation of the act. Food standard should maintain consistency with Codex Altimentarious, he added. There are faulty adherence of structural functions and coordination among concerned ministries and departments as such that law could not be implemented properly.
The discussants emphasized on the enactment of `the Right to Food Act’ to ensure food security for all and also argued and postulated the following-
Consumer’s right also violated by the act as such that a consumer cannot direct complain in the court against any unusual occurrence. Beside that awareness should be built about the using of pesticides and its quantity which is harmful for human health. Before passing the act, government should collect recommendations from district to grass root level and hence farmers’ opinion should take into account with highest importance.
Proposed draft Act should be verified before passing it in Bangladesh parliament to justify that the act is not contradictory with other existing laws to avoid complexities in the time of implementation. In the act there has no clear definition of food which makes it ambiguous and that which food is protected by this act. At the same time, nutrition should also be ensured with food availability.
Proper research should be done on food safety in Bangladesh before passing the act. However, without emphasizing on right to food, it would be quite difficult to implement Safe Food Act was argued. The act should also be decentralized to reach the bottom of the country and raise awareness among the mass people of Bangladesh, because without making the mass people aware, the law could not act properly and hence we should include our media in awareness building campaign.
Reference was made to Indian Supreme Court that recognized Right to Food as one of the fundamental rights in their constitution, but Bangladesh still did not recognize it in the constitution. So, the act should be included in the constitution. Ensuring only quality of food cannot be the solution because lots of rural people especially women, children and other marginalized population in urban area are deprived of having access to food. So, the Government should ensure adequate safe food for its people.
In the current context of Bangladesh, safe and secure food is an indispensable concern to provide a secure world for the present and future generation. There is no provision about food vending though, in the context of Bangladesh, it is really essential to grant license to the street food venders. Consumer’s right also violated by the act as a consumer cannot direct complain in the court against any unusual occurrence.
Finally, ALRD reviewed the Act and made a critic presentation for all by arranging the round table. As there were no punishment system for the criminals, ALRD continued to press their demand to include punishment system as well as people’s right to have safe food. Finally, the cabinet approved the bill keeping provision of 14 years imprisonment for food adulterates.