Wednesday, April 14, 2021

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Aflatoxin issue: An ideal platform to set up an effective food administration

By Gamini Abeywardane

The recent brouhaha about contaminated palm oil and the harmful effects of aflatoxin became the subject matter of political debate overshadowing its actual relevance to the health of the people. It also became a platform for a kind of trade war between local coconut oil manufacturers and palm oil importers.

Many were talking about the need to punish the culprits and politics behind it while there was hardly any discussion on finding a permanent solution to perennial issue of toxic and other harmful content in food and food ingredients.

It is necessary to punish those who have knowingly imported or distributed edible oils which are contaminated and harmful to the health of the people. Yet far more important is to have a stronger legal and institutional mechanism akin to the Food and Drug Administration in the US to deal with this issue.

Over the years there has been a lackadaisical attitude towards the quality of foodstuff sold in this country and the general perception has been that with right influence one can bypass all the institutions that are responsible for maintaining the quality standards in this regard.

Food security is obviously a part of the national security and this probably may be the best opportunity for the authorities to look at the issue seriously and to come up with a proper solution.

The issue surfaced through palm oil received country much attention because of the wide media coverage, but it encompasses a range of things which includes locally made coconut oil, imported and locally grown fruits and vegetables, confectionaries, bakery products and many other food items available in the local market.

Some of these food items are not subjected quality control while even those requiring Sri Lanka Standards (SLS) may not be always safe for consumption because of the weaknesses and loopholes in the quality control certification process.

Therefore it is clear that while more stringent legislation is necessary; the existing system also has to be strengthened leaving no room for unscrupulous traders and producers to misuse it through corrupt means.

According to Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

In other words not only should the people have economic access to sufficient food they should also be safe and nutritious and therefore if the available food is not safe for consumption there is no food security.

Food safety refers to routines in the preparation, handling and storage of food. Safe food handling practices and procedures should be implemented at every stage of the food production life cycle if we are to curb health risks and prevent harm to consumers.

It is a well-known fact that the rules and regulations with regard to food security are very stringent and effectively administered in the US, UK, the European Union and other developed countries like Japan while they are poorly administered in the third world countries.

Now the issue has come to the public domain in a prominent manner the government should seize the opportunity to lay the foundation for an effective quality administration system covering all types of food and food ingredients that are available for sale in the market. Like national security it’s a subject that cannot be compromised in the face of popular politics.


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