Food tampering offenses increase even during lockdown

Food adulteration is rampant in Nepal with a long list of food items ranging from milk, dairy products, spices and water to tea, edible oil and lentils contaminated with unhealthy ingredients, said people. responsible.

Unscrupulous traders appeared to have been busy even during the lockdown degrading food items and selling them to unsuspecting Nepalese. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the country last year, the government ordered everyone to be confined indoors for months to prevent the virus from spreading. Another lockdown was imposed on April 29 which lasted until September 1 as the number of cases of infection increased.

But that hasn’t stopped dishonest manufacturers from trying to make a quick buck by adding banned substances to food products consumed by the population, creating a direct threat to public health.

The Food Technology and Quality Control Department said it took legal action against 27 companies in different district administration offices and courts in the first three months of the fiscal year (July 15 to October 15). Manufacturers have been accused of mixing illegal ingredients into food products and selling items unfit for human consumption.

Consumer rights activists said the production and distribution of adulterated and expired food continued to increase even during the lockdown period. “It happened because the government was not present in the market,” they said.

In a series of market inspections, the ministry and its regional offices collected 852 food samples from across the country during the review period. Among them, 36 samples were found to be adulterated or unfit for consumption.

Consumer rights activists say that as long as consumers view food adulteration as a minor problem and the government downplays its impact on the healthcare system, these offenses will continue to grow.

“There are three levels of government in Nepal, and all of them have been mandated to carry out market inspections. Despite all this legal weight, food adulteration has continued to spread, ”said Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumer Forum.

“We don’t feel any government presence in the market. The market operates or is controlled by powerful traders.

Maharjan said the current Food Act 1967 was very weak.

“As the district administrative office is one of the agencies responsible for adjudicating malpractice cases in the market, no one bother to file a complaint even if they are cheated. There is so much bureaucracy that no one even knows what verdict has been reached. ”

Among the companies sued by the department, Charpane’s Nepal Tea Development Corporation, Jhapa was sued for using labeling on its tea packaging that did not comply with the standard.

Kalika Dairy, Bhaktapur has been charged with producing or selling adulterated curd. Krishna Pauroti Udyog, a Tanahu-based bread maker, broke labeling rules and Bara’s Om Kailash Dhara Oil Mill was arrested for selling low-quality mustard oil.

Action has been taken against Aqua Nepal Bisleri, a drinking water plant based in Rupandehi, for producing or selling adulterated water.

Aashirbad Agro and Foods, Nawalparasi produced or sold poor quality spices, Rajdhani Dairy housed in Patan industrial zone produced and sold adulterated processed milk, and Bidur’s Nepal Pellet Feed Industry was accused of producing and selling chicken feed. adulterated.

Buttabari tea in Jhapa produced and sold poor quality tea.

“In most cases, hearings are ongoing in different administrative offices and district courts,” said Matina Joshi Vaidya, director general of the department.

“We do not know much about the follow-up given to the cases that we have submitted,” she said. “The department does not even have a record of verdicts handed down by district administration offices or the courts.”

The government report says nine cases have been filed against manufacturers of milk and dairy products, five against producers of spices, five producers of lentils and foods made from these products, and three producers of water. drinking treated.

Two cases have been filed against tea producers, and one case each has been filed against sauce, edible oil and animal feed companies.

Department officials said consumer cases were never a priority, as administrative offices and district courts were busy most of the time in other cases.

“So it takes a long time to get verdicts on consumer-related cases,” Maharjan said.

Three years have passed since the approval of the amended Consumer Protection Law of 2018, which contains a provision requiring the government to establish a consumer court. But there is no indication that a consumer court is being set up.

“It shows how serious the government is in securing consumer rights,” activists said.

The government has asked the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to establish a consumer court, and a draft working procedure has been prepared.

Vaidya said that a consumer court would be formed in accordance with the Consumer Law, while the Food Law itself is a specialized law and the actions against various companies were taken in accordance with this law. .

She added that the Food Law does not specifically mention expired food products, due to which measures taken against violators appear lenient.

Last July, the government tabled a bill in Parliament to amend and integrate laws relating to the purity and quality of food. The proposed legislation provides for severe penalties against producers and sellers of substandard and adulterated food.

It has been three years since the bill was prepared, but it has come to nothing due to the endless political turmoil.

The penalties proposed in the new law are significantly more severe than those prescribed by the current Food Law, which sets a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a fine of 5,000 rupees.

Vaidya said the bill was being discussed in the upper house legislative committee.

“The government has not paid much attention to educating consumers about their rights. It doesn’t have a budget to do it either.

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