Food safety first

On World Health Day yesterday, Bhutan, or at least some Bhutanese, joined the international community is in observing the day.  The theme, ‘Food Safety’ was most relevant at home too.

In Phuentsholing, where the event to mark the day was held, food safety was mostly focused on what is cooked and served.  This is important.  As the gateway to the country and a commercial hub, people from all walks of life throng Phuentsholing.  Not many have relatives or friends to pile on to.  Many are left to depend on the food served by the countless eateries.  Neighbouring Jaigaon even serves cheaper food.  It’s important for those involved in the food business to be mindful of food safety.

But safety of food starts way before it reaches the plate.  It starts from the farm.  The message is clear that good agricultural practice will reduce food hazards.  By good practice, we are referring to not using chemicals in producing healthier and higher yielding crops.  Food will be safer if it is grown at farms with no or less chemicals or fertilisers.

But what we don’t know is where most of our food supply comes from.  A classic example is the vegetables we buy at the markets.  They may look fresh and tender, but only a few suppliers will know how they are cultivated.  Unfortunately we import a lot and have no control over how it is grown.

Authorities may have control over what is sold, but how it is grown can only be left to the imagination.  Vegetable is a million or even billion ngultrum business.  Farmers, even at home, know this.  To keep up with demand and lured by the income, good practice is the last thing on their mind.  They will only consider how much they can produce and earn.

There are new methods and chemicals to kill pests and weeds as we focus on enhancing production.  Not even homegrown food can be considered safe now.  How often do we check if the vegetables sold at the centenary market are free of pesticides?

Rapid socio-economic development has given access to an incredible range of extremely harmful food, available at any store in the most attractive packaging.  If monosodium glutamate or the favourite tastemaker has become indispensible in our restaurants, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to packaged foods.

Then we have strange food products without labels to know what is inside.  In the rush for business, strange goods are imported by the truckloads from so many places.  If they are cheap, no one regulates or cares who buys what.  That’s why we see children exposed to hazards of food at an early age.  The average Bhutanese is consuming more sugar, more oils and fats from tins and plastic containers like never before.

Apart from occasional messages on international days, we don’t see much to educate, or policy decisions to intervene, in making what we consume safe.

The responsibility falls on the educated and the exposed to make the right choices.


2 replies
    MIGNIEN says:

    Comments of IRFAN are always a protitable ressource to get ahead in the country .
    In this under comment , how the common consumer do to know what the vegetables are made of? The only way I said in my comment ” BAFRA thumb up ” article consist in is unexpected controls and taking samples of a great deal of vegetable ; and supply them to a specialised laboratory which will proceed with a spectographic machine ; and give the detailed composition of this sample . So the Health ministry can write a regulation with a rate of each chemical product under which there is no danger for health population ; and forbide the product if above. . But where is a laboratory with a so called equipment ???

  2. irfan
    irfan says:

    On a theme of ‘food safety’, discussing safe to consume vegetables does make good sense. Vegetables, being so important in our diet, if not safely produced, can take us to the wrong side of a good health. When everything from production to supply to retailing is well scattered, ensuring standards for safety at all levels of business can get painful at the policy level. It’s true that suppliers, being responsible for bulk procurement, are in better position to ensure safety standards and can be monitored for the same. Problem is that even the healthy looking vegetables may not be chemically safe to consume. Cold storage and transportation may not be available or considered economical.

    Just like it’s difficult to expect every farmer to practice healthy farming, even buyers are not always ready to pay more for honest business practices in a market and that too for vegetables. When demand is for healthy looking fresh vegetables at cheaper price, the supply chain needs to be shortened to the minimum. This is more realistic at the business level than at a government policy level. Otherwise we have to manage with packaged vegetables with necessary labels or just opt for vegetable supplements. We don’t have such consumption culture; do we? But some part of culture can also be modified with consumers playing equal part as producers.

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