FOLLOWING the postmortem report of two brothers who had died from food poisoning, an upscale eatery in Karachi was sealed off. The Sindh Food Authority raided the restaurant and claimed to have seized some 80 kilogrammes of expired meat. The SFA’s director mentioned that the restaurant had already been served an improvement notice two months earlier. Although culpability has yet to be conclusively determined in this case, it is true that there are few inspections of eateries that are often the source for food-related illnesses.
The Sindh government has announced the formation of a committee to consult and review the SFA’s performance. Earlier, the provincial assembly had also passed the Sindh Food Authority Act. But the problem doesn’t seem to be in the passing of laws and the formation of new watchdog bodies — the rot lies elsewhere. Punjab also passed the Punjab Pure Foods Rules and the Food Authority Act in 2011. In recent years, it has also had the most active food regulatory body. Most notable was PFA officer Ayesha Mumtaz who conducted operations and sealed restaurants and factories across Lahore. She was removed from her position for dubious reasons in 2016. In her crusade to purify Lahore’s palate, she managed to ruffle the feathers of those with power and influence. Politics got in the way. And perhaps this is where the problem lies: dishonesty and cutting corners cuts across class. Members of food regulatory bodies have been found to be complacent about adulteration or in an understanding with makers of substandard food. In fact, the quality of food, health and sanitation in Pakistan is highly suspect. The country’s largest metropolis is filthy. Much of its population lives amongst open sewerage systems and mounds of garbage. There is a lack of awareness about basic hygiene and washing, and even the quality of water is suspect. There are high rates of E. coli contamination and fecal bacteria in surface and ground water, while untreated waste water seeps into crop irrigation systems, and then into markets, restaurants and households. Ideally, independent regulatory bodies and experts should frequently test food from markets inside labs, conduct research, and publish their findings. But last year, when the Karachi mayor unexpectedly showed up at the KMC food quality control laboratory department, he found most of the testing machines to be out of order. Until strict actions are taken for criminal negligence, we will keep hearing of tragedies.
Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2018