LAHORE – Is it extreme profiteering or lack of awareness among consumers about adulteration or lax implementation of laws to curb down odious crime causing adverse impacts?

Adulteration of food is a criminal act in Pakistan and an adulterator could be imprisoned for life, but without proper implementation of laws the punishment to the adulterators and availability of pure food would remain a distant dream. The sale of substandard foods is rampant even in big cities, including the provincial  metropolis, while the food regulatory bodies usually conceal the results of checked food from the public. Data available with TheNation show that the City District Government (CDG) collected 12,029 samples of different eatables including oil spices, beverages, sauces and bakery items. Of those, 3,031 or almost 25 per cent samples were found adulterated while the remaining 8,761 samples were passed by the laboratories.

The total number of premises seized in 2011 was 117. Moreover, 98 special raids – including on milk shops at different places such as Shera Kot, Saggian Pul, Rohi Nulla, GT Road, Bhaghbanpura and Thokar Niaz Beig – were conducted by the officials to check adulteration. The total number of notices served to the shopkeepers or traders for corrective measures was 615.

The data also show that the fine collected through ticketing in the year 2011 was Rs2,773,000 against 1,392 fine tickets issued under PLGO 2005. The total amount of fine imposed by special judicial magistrates in violation of food challans was Rs1,812,242 and the revenue generated from issuance of 1,954 food licenses in the year amounted to Rs14,000,000. Interestingly, only five FIRs were registered against the adulterators under the same act.

Lahorites, known to be gourmets, are suffering from serious health hazards, which are growing with the increasing adulteration in food items, resulting in fatal diseases, especially relating to heart, liver and abdomen.

District Officer (Food) Dr Masaud Ashraf told TheNation that only 10 food inspectors were there to check the food quality of thousands of hotels and make-shift shops in the provincial metropolis with over 10 million population. Some 1,100 foods samples were collected each month and sent to the laboratories, he informed.

Dr Ashraf said that several factories were raided by CDG officials and some of them were also sealed. “The district government raided and sealed Fraz Foods, a sauce factory and grabbed 25 adulterated cans of the same. He further said the Food department seized a large quantity of misbranded edibles including beverages of international brands with no expiry date.

The district officer revealed that a special raid under the supervision of Assistant Commissioner City was conducted to check the tealeaves being used by the tea stallholders. Dr Ashraf further said that under the PFA, mobile testing laboratories would be set up that could check the quality of food being sold on the roads.

The district officer said with the implementation of the new law, all the loopholes would be filled and that the government had decided to tighten the screw on those found guilty of committing adulteration.

An official said on conditioning anonymity that adulterators were not scared of any punitive or legal action because of loopholes in the existing laws. “When arrested or challaned against any offence, the majority of adulterators easily get bails from the courts of law,” he said.

The new law, if implemented as per its spirit, he said, could help reduce the problems of people and grill the adulterators. “Pakistan Customs, Pakistan Railways, Karachi Port Trust, etc., are also responsible for adulteration,” alleged the source, adding these departments confiscate different imported items like tinned food products, food chemicals and medicinal substances.

“These departments have no sheds and they keep the confiscated items in open sheds undergoing vagaries of weather, which badly affect their chemical composition. The new law should also held these departments responsible in the court of law and punish those involved in the crime,” he proposed.

He disclosed that the laboratory tests of edible oil, vanaspati ghee and distilled water conducted by the food department did not disclose the names of brands which were found unfit for human consumption. He stressed to establish a laboratory, equipped with modern scientific equipment and skilled personnel that the government so far lacked, for fast test results.

He also raised questions on the new law that could not be implemented in true sense in the whole province with 36 districts and 127 tehsils / towns. The Punjab government knew it and was reluctant to notify the new law, he alleged. The powers entitled to the Food Safety Officer might increase the bribe rate and damage the existing business on low level.

Adulteration, an act of intentionally debasing the quality of food, causes severe health problems in humans including stomach ache, anemia, abortion, paralysis, and increase in the incidence of tumors, pathological lesions in vital organs, abnormalities of skin and eyes. The obesity and sexual impotence are other common diseases, Dr Yaqub, a private practitioner, told TheNation.

–Javed Iqbal