“Does this meal come with a complimentary side of poison?” – Food adulteration in Bangladesh – (November 2012, Issue 1)

November 25, 2012, by Sajeda Farisa Kabir

According to Article 15 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, amongst others, it shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to securing to its citizens the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care. Further, Article 18 provides that the State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties.


These days, while visiting the supermarkets and bazaars, we cannot help but raise an eyebrow when looking at the array of produce on display and wonder what concoction the fruits and vegetables have been stewed in before being offered to us consumers. Food adulteration has reached alarming heights in the last few years in Bangladesh. There is hardly any food item which has not been caught in this venomous net.


Traders are using toxic chemicals like formalin, textile dyestuffs and hydrous in preserving foods. Adulterants are used in almost every food-item from milk to fruits, from vegetables to grains. Most of the adulterants that are intentionally added are invisible or they are made invisible by shrewdly concealing with the color or texture. For example, bananas are sprayed with a chemical called Calcium Carbide, which is extremely hazardous to the human body because it contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous. Once dissolved in water, the carbide produces acetylene gas, which is similar to the ripening agents produced by fruits known as ethylene. Acetylene imitates the ethylene and quickens the ripening process. The chemical fertilizer urea is used in our rice to make it whiter, fish in kitchen markets are stored in formaldehyde (used to preserve dead-bodies) to keep them fresh-looking, colors and sweeteners are injected into fruits, and recent studies by the Food and Nutrition Institute, University of Dhaka, have also found Escherichia coli (E-coli), Salmonella, and Shigella bacteria in restaurant food and street food in the city.[1]


The food contamination and food adulteration situation of Bangladesh is a serious public health concern. Unsafe/contaminated food causes many acute and life-long diseases, ranging from diarrhoeal diseases to various forms of cancer. In Bangladesh dependable assessment of the public health impact due to food contamination is not available due to absence of a regular monitoring system. General scenario on food contamination demonstrates a widespread non compliance with hygienic practice in food handling both among food producers and food traders such as street food traders. The chronic effect of such events such as cancer, kidney disorders and birth defects is unlikely to be observed in short term, because the manifestation of the disease only occurs after longterm, low-level exposure. Food contamination and consumers exposure to food hazards have major implication on the food security and consumers heath in Bangladesh. Low level of awareness and weakness in existing Food laws and regulation are also contributing to aggravating the country’s food safety situation.[2]


There are several legislative enactments as well as ordinances to ensure the safety of standard food articles and to punish the food adulterers, including, amongst others, the Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance, 1959, the Bangladesh Pure Food Rules, 1967, Bangladesh Pure Food (Amendment) Act 2005, the Essential Commodity Act, 1990; Fish and Fish product (Inspection and Quality Control) Rules, 1997, and certain provisions of the Penal Code. However, considering the ever increasing rates of adulteration, the question arises as to how effective these laws are and what the authorities are doing or rather not doing to address this problem.

The Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 (“1959 Ordinance”) was amended by the Bangladesh Pure Food (Amendment) Act 2005 (“2005 Act”). Following the said amendment, the 2005 Act broadened the meaning of adulteration and inserted a provision for the establishment of a Pure Food Court by the Government.[3] Further, the amended 1959 Ordinance vested power on the Government to (a) appoint public analysts[4] (for ensuring better control of the manufacture and sale of food for human consumption) and  also (b) form a National Food Safety Advisory Council[5] (comprising of very high ranking bureaucrats from eight different Ministries and representatives from other institutions such as the University of Dhaka and the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institute), for the purposes of advising the Government regarding matters related to the safety of food, standard and quality control for food with a view to ensuring their purity, safety and proper nutritional value, development of man-power services and facilities required for ensuring safety, quality and pure food for human consumption and formulation of policies and strategies related to food safety and quality control.


The 1959 Ordinance is a very comprehensive piece of legislation on the subject of food safety and food adulteration, dealing with every possible aspect including but not limited to the manufacture, sale, distribution and storage of food, in some cases, dealing specifically regarding certain categories of food such as milk, ice cream, other dairy products, bread-stuffs, cake, pastry, sweetmeats, flour and confectionery.[6]


Upon perusal of the laws regarding food adulteration in Bangladesh, it appears that while there is no shortage of legislation, rules and regulations on the subject, there is a serious lack of implementation of the law by the relevant authorities to curb this problem. The lack of action by the authorities is endangering the life of the people of the country who are slowly but surely being poisoned through consumption of unspeakable toxins in their daily food items.


It is the constitutional responsibility of the State to ensure the provision of nutritious food to the citizens of this country and also to take steps to improve public health. Such negligent behavior on the part of the authorities to take effective steps to curb this problem of adulteration could give the citizens of Bangladesh serious grounds for taking action against the authorities before a court of law.


The time has come to take a hard-hitting stance to control or end this problem for all.


Written by Sajeda Farisa Kabir, Partner  


† Disclaimer: The opinions and comments expressed in this Blawg are not to be regarded or construed as legal advice by and from Vertex Chambers or any of its members. It is highly advisable that any person should seek independent legal advice before relying on any of the contents of this Blawg.

[1] http://www.sos-arsenic.net/english/environment/food-poison.html

[2] http://www.ban.searo.who.int/en/Section3/Section40/Section104.htm

[3] See Section 41 of the 1959 Ordinance.

[4] See Section 4 of the 1959 Ordinance.

[5] See Section 4A of the 1959 Ordinance.

[6] See Sections 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 23 of the 1959 Ordinance.