AGROCHEMICAL & FOOD ADDITIVE
TARIQ AHMED SAEEDI
July 19 - 25, 2010
Food safety is an international health issue with countries and international health associations working out ways to ensure supply of not only required foods to all but also foods with proper nutritious values. While former relates closely to sufficiency in production and efficient marketing system latter belongs to techniques of food manufacturing and processing.
Brining nutritious values in foods or in other words making foods more healthful is easier saying than done amid the meal-preserving environment where the control over excessive use of additives or misuse of chemicals during food manufacturing and processing seems to have vanished off. The drooping control is standout in unregulated food markets of Pakistan where both sellers are free of selling substandard foods and buyers overlook impacts of such food intakes on health.
Substandard or adulterated foods and beverages are sold openly in crowded bazaars and roadside small shops in absence of lack of monitoring and regulations for such products. These products are made without quality consideration and thus posing great dangers to health of consumers. Prepared or unprepared, such products do not carry recognised brand marks let alone expiry dates when they are perishable and come out usually from informal sector. A list includes score of cooked foods in unchecked restaurants and small shops, falsely proclaimed mineral waters, counterfeits, etc. But, the things get worst and are difficult to be controlled when adulteration occurs in manufacturing or processing of foods.
Over the years, use of chemicals in agriculture has increased manifold. Sometimes, the application of agrochemical is entirely for the sake of augmenting crop yields and ridding pests that are dangerous to crops. For example, different pesticides are applied on live crops to save them from fly attacks. The result has often-negative implications on the health of crops that develop bacteria to cause human pandemic. However, this happens owing evidently to misuse of pesticides and fertilisers more than needed. Contaminants also develop in the crops naturally because of soil, water, and climate.
In Pakistan, use of agrochemicals and fertiliser are on rise. According to FAO report, this use varies from country to country. Some agro-based nations facilitate the appropriate application of agrochemicals while in other countries the practice is left on the discretion of farmers. State's apathy and reluctance in checking use of chemicals in food processing produces irrecoverable loss to human health. For example, insertion of nitrogenous chemical or urea in dairy products turn in to human health disaster, though limited use is always encouraged to increase food shelf life. Melamine is such a chemical that is added in the processed milk and other dairy products to recover its protein substance, which is lost after processing. Overuse of melamine in milk and milk products like dry milk yogurt and candies create lethal health problems. China has recently recorded considerable rise in kidney problems in infants who were diagnosed with stones in kidney and renal tube blockage. This resulted in hundreds of death. World Health Organisation in its report mentioned the melamine contents existing in China made powdered milk, candies, yogurt, etc. It recommends caution in consumption of products suspected with possessing unknown melamine components.
A WHO report says it is not easy to enumerate the exact casualties from foodborne diseases, but it clarifies that incidence of foodborne diseases or outbreak of food related pathogens is quite high in developing countries. Although, the report did not single out Pakistan as a matter of fact, the hallmarks it illustrated to describe foodborne disease-hit places can one reminisce health problems in Pakistan where diarrhoea, cholera, hepatitis, and other life threatening ailments are common in urban, suburban, peri-urban, and rural areas. The incidence is skyrocketing in rural and remote locations of administrative deficiencies. In developed countries also, the number of population suffering from foodborne disease is significant, as large as 30 per cent of total population. A joint FAO-WHO committee on food additives found out 1500 food additives, 40 contaminants and residues of veterinary drugs.
While there are downsides of chemical applications, advantages can also not be overruled. Biotechnology increases crop yields, which are important in view of mounting population density. The report says though it resists pests, removes allergen from foods, and increases nutrition, yet it begets anti-microbial markers in genetically modified foods. The report left it on the authorities of agriculture to figure out the pertinent measures to take benefits of biotechnology while maintaining a balance. Modern agriculture practices and safe use of pesticides, food additives, and veterinary drugs are recommended to secure food safety. Designing of legislative framework is another prominent suggestion to develop a health-risk free food processing and manufacturing chain. Government can enforce policy to create food safety.
Achieving food safety in Pakistan faces multiple challenges. While there are proper laws in the country to proscribe contaminated food supply to public, yet enforcement is an area where obstruction to food safety takes place. The contamination of food is encouraged by consumers who close the eyes to evidently illegal and harmful products and even consume them inconsiderate of health implications. Primarily, consumer education is necessary to ensure food safety. Devil-may-care attitude of consumers give the breeds of substandard food suppliers a hatchery to grow. An underlying reason is definitely anaemic food inspection system in the country. Law enforcers do little care of what is being sold to consumers is in sheer violation of hibernating laws of the country. A research fellow of consumer rights commission of Pakistan write in his article food safety laws of the country 'have tremendous capacities to achieve at least minimum level of food safety'. The laws remain unenforced, he notes.