Eating rights

Tuesday, 26 August 2014 01:02 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

SRI LANKA’S Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) has introduced new regulations on storing expired products under a special gazette notification issued on 15 August. The latest measure focuses on banning unwarranted storing of expired products with the expectation of reducing the chances of it being recycled back into the market. According to the regulations, the individuals who store the expired products for any purpose such as returning, exporting or destroying must submit complete records to the CAA. The regulation is valid for importers, producers, distributors, suppliers and retailers. The Authority plans to take stern action from 1 September against those traders who do not maintain proper reports on items that are not suitable for consumer consumption or on items to be destroyed. It comes after hundreds of kilos of essential items were seized by CAA raids around the island. Separate disclosures have also nabbed operations where items such as stale dry fish are taken to rural parts of the country, washed, dried and repacked to be returned to markets where they are consumed by the public. Yet the new gazette falls short of reducing the massive abuse of chemicals and other forms of poison added into rice, vegetables and fruits, and supplied to consumers around the country every single day. Horror stories of chemicals used for everything from ripening rice and fruits to keeping flies off sprats are told by concerned consumers but the CAA has failed to take any meaningful steps. On a larger scale, Government policies geared at producing food at accepted international standards for local consumers also continue to be absent. Most of Sri Lanka’s organically produced food is exported and what little remains in the country does not come close to meeting demand. Growing awareness among the public is stymied by lack of resources including knowledge, funding and technology that should be spearheaded by the Government. Currently the biggest focus is sourced from the private sector but it needs a larger catalyst to take it national. Recently, Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) urged the Government to take immediate action to set up an independent food authority with qualified personnel dedicated entirely to food control administration, in order to protect public health by reducing the risk of food-borne illnesses, largely because the CAA and other bodies are ineffective in protecting the public from being poisoned. Such an authority should work in close liaison with the Ministries of Health and Trade but should be accountable to the Cabinet of Ministers or the Head of State, they proposed. The main defect in the food control and food safety system in Sri Lanka is its absolute inability of enforcement, although the Food Act itself recognises the imperatives of food safety as identified by the FAO and the WHO. No attempt is made to enforce the mandatory provisions. Food control administration is a specialised field that has to be constantly engaged with food manufacturers, producers, administrators, and most importantly the consumers. This is the principal reason why many developed and developing countries have entrusted food control and safety to a separate institution outside the Ministry of Health whose primary task is ‘healthcare delivery’. But in Sri Lanka the challenge looms large with the Government’s attention still elsewhere.