The provincial Food Safety Authority Act 2014 puts in place comprehensive regulations and provides for strict punishments to improve the quality of food sold and consumed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Nonetheless, the effectiveness of the new law will depend on how strong is the writ of its enforcement authority.
However, the severe punishments provided by the Act which was passed by the provincial assembly in March this year, is expected by officials to serve as a deterrent to food providers and sellers.
The provincial government has put a minimum penalty of Rs3m for every human life lost as a result of eating ‘unsafe’ food. The compensation money to be paid to the victim’s family or his/her legal heirs would come from the food operator or the firm responsible for providing the ‘unsafe’ food.
The compensation money could be higher if the court looking into the matter decides so, according to the law. Section 32(1) provides that, in addition to any other penalty, the “compensation paid to the consumer or, as the case may be, the legal heirs of the consumer,” — “is not less than three million rupees in case of death and not exceeding five hundred thousand rupees in case of injury”.
In case of failure by the food operator/firm to pay the compensation, the money would be recoverable as arrears of land revenue. The recovery of the arrears would be the responsibility of the provincial food safety authority.
The effectiveness of the new law would depend on the food safety authority responsible for improving ‘nutrition status of masses’.
The law is quite comprehensive in its scope. It defines firms/ food operators as those entities which produce, sell, transport, store, sell, distribute, import or export food.
As a result, the only four-star hotel in KP, restaurants, roadside eatery, vendors selling cooked foods on wooden pushcarts and stalls would be monitored by the food safety authority.
Similarly, food businesses, defined under the law as ‘any undertaking, whether for profit or not, carrying out any of the activities related to any stage of manufacturing, processing, packaging, storage, transportation, distribution, import, catering services, food services, sale of food or food ingredients’, would also be liable to be regulated by the high powered food safety authority.
The enforcement of writ of the upcoming authority would require a strong political will of on the part of ruling coalition partes, as a majority of food outlets particularly small vendors and roadside eateries have not been known for high hygiene standards.
Indeed, the small vendors are not the only ones who need to improve quality standards. Restaurants, sweet merchants, cafes, and chefs engaged to cook meals at weddings and religious ceremonies also need to improve their quality of eatables.
Moreover, food adulteration, substandard packaging, sub-nutritional value of foods on the markets also need to strictly checked and that presents the food safety authority with a heavy work agenda.