Islamabad - Right under the nose of Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA), companies are selling chemicals in the name of tea whitener, liquid milk and other products for the last several decades.

It was revealed in the Senate Standing Committee on Science and Technology meeting held here on Friday.

The meeting turned into a steamy session when some members posed questions why sub-standard and impure food items, tea whiteners, and powder milk were being sold in the market and what steps the ministry has taken to ban such harmful food items.

The members reprimanded bureaucrats and other officials for not implementing the directions of the legislators — either in connivance with the powerful business mafia — or just to ‘save their jobs’.

The senators got upset at the very beginning of the session when officials of the Ministry of Science and Technology failed to answer why no MNA or a senator had been inducted into the board of governors of the National Institute of Oceanography despite clear directions by Senate and National Assembly Secretariats.

When Committee Chairman Osman Saifullah Khan, senators Lt-Gen (retd) Abdul Qayyum and Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hassani pressed further, Ministry of Science and Technology Additional Secretary Muhammad Ashraf admitted that his ministry sent a letter for approval to Prime Minister Secretariat in 2014.

When the senators asked why the ministry did not pursue the letter since 2014 and who was responsible for the delay, the additional secretary kept mum and remained unmoved.

The second abnormality that offended the legislators was the disclosure that the PSQCA has already made the standards for tea whiteners and liquid milk without consulting parliamentarians.

“We clearly told you to include us in the standard making process but despite our clear directions, you made up the standards, why,” asked Senator Mian Muhammad Ateeq Sheikh.

The PSQCA chief had nothing to explain but smiled. It was a bizarre movement that the senators were reprimanding him but he continued to smile indifferently, mirroring what his boss, the additional secretary, was doing.

“You have made these standards in connivance with manufacturers, these manufacturers are very strong, I know they also tried to approach me,” said Shaikh.

“There is adultery and fraud everywhere. Poor buy liquid milk to get some nutrition but they (manufacturers) were selling chemicals in the name of milk. Every food item available in the market is tainted. Poultry feed is also poisonous, bottled water is not fit for drinking, please tell us what the PSQCA and the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) are doing,” another senator asked.

They said the sub-standard food items were the major reasons behind growing cases of hepatitis and other fatal diseases.

Lt-Gen (retd) Qayyum narrated an incident that when he was a military secretary, someone gave the prime minister (of that time) bottled water when she asked for. He said that he sent the residual bottled water for test and it was found that the water was not fit for human consumption.

The committee was surprised that despite the presence of departments like the PSQCA and the PCRWR, most of the food items and bottled drinking water available in the market were impure and many were injurious to health.

The PSQCA director general admitted that the situation was serious but showed his helplessness by saying that there was no legislation to check tea whiteners or liquid milk available in tetra packs.

He said that the companies were minting millions of dollars monthly but there was no one to check either they were selling chemicals or poison.

The additional secretary tried to take refuge behind the 18th Constitutional Amendment where the administrative and implementing authority was shifted to provinces but the senators were smart enough to buy the old excuse.

The policy making is the duty of the federal government. There might be some implementing issues after the 18th amendment but you tell us who stopped you (federal government and PSQCA) from initiating any legislation for tea whiteners, liquid milk or poultry feed.

Instead of answering direct and simple questions that what standards have been adopted for the tea whiteners and liquid milk packs, the additional secretary and the PSQCA director general and his quality control staff continued to provide unnecessary details, making the senators more uncomfortable and impatient.

The committee decided to call chief secretaries at the next meeting to discuss banning sub-standard milk and tea whiteners and asked the authority for a detailed presentation at the next sitting.

PSQCA DG Khalid Siddiq revealed that after doing business in Pakistani market for the last many decades, giants such as ENGRO and Nestle obtained the licence last month. He said that they have been told to write in bold letters on tea whiteners and other products that it was not milk.

He said that during the last one year, his department sealed 212 companies for making unhygienic food or bottled water and he received 660 telephone calls from influential people.

He said that they also sealed local companies’ gourmet and Dosay for selling substandard liquid milk but they went to court and obtained a stay.

The PSQCA director general admitted that no poultry feed manufacturer in the country was accredited with the authority and there was no check on the poultry feed manufacturers.

The otherwise composed additional secretary uttered something extraordinary, summing up the whole debate in one sentence.

“The situation is serious, but there is political interference, we closed two factories but we had to reopen them,” he told the committee and after a brief pause, the senators moved to the next agenda item.

Last year, the Competition Commission of Pakistan announced to take action against food companies for marketing tea whiteners as milk, and issued show cause notices to M/s Shakarganj Foods Products Limited, M/s Haleeb Foods Limited, M/s Noon Pakistan Limited and M/s Engro Foods Limited for alleged violation of Section 10 of the Competition Act, 2010 by marketing and advertising tea whiteners as milk.