Ensuring Food Safety

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Mohammad Mahfuzul Hoque is the Chairman of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA). Previotusly, Mahfuzul Hoque, an additional secretary of the government, served as a member of Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR). Receiving his Honors and Master’s Degree from the Economics Department of Chittagong University, he was an officer of the 1984 Batch of Bangladesh Civil Service.

“BFSA WILL COORDINATE FOOD SAFETY RELATED ACTIVITIES IN ORDER TO IMPROVE THE EFFECTIVENESS OF THE FOOD CONTROL SYSTEM AND ENSURE THAT THEY PUT THE HEALTH OF PEOPLE FIRST AND FOREMOST.”

What is the vision and mission you have set for the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority?
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) was established in 2nd February 2015 under the Food Safety Act 2013 which has been enacted through repealing the existing Pure Food Ordinance 1959. The Ordinance focused mainly on the norms for processed food products to avoid any adulteration that could harm human health. It does not cover the safety measures needed to be taken throughout the whole food supply chain. In addition, the Pure Food Rules 1967 under the Ordinance has become outdated and does not comply with the safety measures regarding several chemical contaminants in food fixed as global safety standards. On the other hand, food control systems in Bangladesh involve several ministries and agencies with a number of laws and regulations, but there is a lack of proper coordination among the agencies and the existing rules and regulations are not adequate for ensuring the safety measure throughout the food supply chain. Under these circumstances, the Bangladesh National Parliament has passed the Food Safety Act, 2013 in order to make provisions for the establishment of an efficient, effective, scientifically based Authority and for regulation through coordination, the activities relating to food production, import, processing, stockpiling, supplying, marketing and sales as well as to ensure the people’s right towards their access to safe food through appropriate application of scientific processes and state of the art technology. Accordingly, BFSA has been formed and it has started work with a Vision – “Safe food for all to protect life and health” and a Mission – “To protect consumers’ health and life by formulating appropriate science based regulations, monitoring the safety of food supply chain and coordinating the work of official food control agencies to ensure the effective enforcement of food regulations taking food control agencies, food businesses and civil societies on board”.

There are many parties attached with the food and public health. How is your organization coordinating with these other parties?
By the Food Safety Act, 2013 Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has been mandated to regulate, through coordination, all the activities currently divided across a multiplicity of departments and agencies as an umbrella organization. Accordingly, three committees have been formed by BFSA to determine specific areas of cooperation with the relevant food control agencies across the relevant Ministries and Departments attempting to sign individual MOU through which BFSA will coordinate food safety related activities in order to improve the effectiveness of the food control system and ensure that they put the health of people first and foremost.

“BFSA is organizing country-wide awareness campaigns engaging all possible stakeholders including local administration, producers’ communities, intermediaries, researchers, consumers, policy makers, civil society representatives, and so on.”

What measures are being taken regarding the imported food items?
Quality and safety issues for the imported food items are looked after by the designated food control agencies/organizations as per the Import Policy Order 2015-2018. However, recent regulatory gap analysis revealed that there are scopes for updating the Policy Order since the safety issues like presence of contaminants (e.g. pesticide residues, heavy metals, PGRs, etc.) of the imported fresh produce like fresh fruits and vegetables are not adequately monitored.

What are you doing to address the concerns of the numerous stakeholders in this area?
Presently BFSA receives technical inputs related to food safety and to draft food safety regulations through eight Food Safety Technical Working Groups (TWG) that were formed by the Ministry of Food, where representatives from the relevant ministries/departments/ organizations have been engaged. By this time, a number of regulations, namely (i) sampling, analysis and testing, (ii) use of food additives have been published and (iii) Chemical Contaminants, Toxins and Residues (iv) Food Hygiene, (v) Food Labeling are in the process of publication. In the process of promulgating the regulations, broad stakeholder consultations have been carried out. Apart from that, BFSA is organizing country-wide awareness campaigns engaging all possible stakeholders including local administration, producers’ communities, intermediaries, researchers, consumers, policy makers, civil society representatives, and so on. By this time seven awareness campaigns have been organized by BFSA in seven divisions of Bangladesh, and this is an on-going activity, and will go down to the district and Upazilla levels in the coming days. Various awareness materials like posters, leaflets, booklets, banners, festoons, etc. have been prepared by BFSA and being distributed to the consumers/stakeholders through the partner agencies. Campaigns are also being carried out though Mobile Apps, Videos, Guidelines, SMSs, Facebook and other electronic and print media.

As we know there is the Consumers Rights Protection Authority, BSTI and many more organizatiosn and at the same time the mobile courts are in operation. How are you coordinating with all of these entities?
At present, about 480 agencies/organizations including 18 ministries/departments are involved in the activities pertaining to food safety in Bangladesh, and they need to be coordinated, and this is a huge job to be shouldered by BFSA. In the various activities of BFSA, we are engaging relevant organizations and stakeholders. For example, BSTI, DAE, DLS, DoF, DNCC, DSCC, BAEC, BARC, BAB, Consumers Rights Protection Department, law enforcing agencies, research organizations, universities, and other government & NGOs are being engaged in various activities of BFSA like TWG, training, meetings, market monitoring and inspection, awareness campaign, and so on. On a temporary basis, 242 Safe Food Inspectors have been designated from the local governments, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Food who have received training on risk-based inspection and are currently performing their duties in the field.

What is being done regarding the rumors that go around regarding food safety and compliance issues?
Due to the lack of scientific knowledge and evidences, rumors have been spread over the country through media that all fresh food including fruits and vegetables are being adulterated by formalin. In fact, formalin does not work on preservation of fruits or vegetables as it works only on protein based organisms. Improved technologies are being used around the world to increase the shelf-life of fruits which are recommended and healthy. For example, apples are being coated with ultrathin edible wax to increase its shelf-life and these are not harmful for human health. Recent a scientific study on a number of food samples including mango, apple, litchi, and fish, vegetable has revealed that no sample contained formalin above the tolerable limit. In order to remove the misconception among the people, BFSA has taken initiative to publish ‘Public Notice’ based on scientific evidences.

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