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Food labs

November 25, 2018


AFTER the death of two children from suspected food poisoning in Karachi, the nascent Sindh Food Authority and provincial government have had to face an onslaught of criticism. Formed in May this year, following the Sindh Food Authority Act, 2017, the body has struggled to find the human resources and capital needed to tackle a city as vast as Karachi, let alone the rest of the province. Additionally, it has had to deal with administrative transitions, which has delayed its work. It still does not have a state-of-the-art laboratory to test food samples, a requirement under Section 25. Instead, it relies on a memorandum of understanding with third-party, private laboratories. Currently, talks are under way to inaugurate two mobile labs, equipped with modern technology. Such a move has been implemented with success in other countries; but one wonders why the SFA did not adopt the already equipped lab of KMC’s (now defunct) Food Quality Control Department, which had previously been conducting sporadic lab tests on food samples in its jurisdiction. KMC had been working under the Pure Food (Amendment) Act, 1965, in its limited jurisdiction. While a visit by the mayor in 2017 found that most of the lab’s equipment and machinery were out of order, and officers were caught taking bribes, a renovated and improved KMC food lab was relaunched three months later. What came of it?

One hopes the SFA improves its record, though it’s already off to a tragic start. Following the 18th Amendment, food quality and control come under the domain of the provinces. So the creation of provincial food regulatory bodies is a relatively new exercise. In the SFA, Sindh has now, for the first time, a body to ensure the provision of safe and hygienic food, and to punish those involved in the production or sale of adulterated food or soft drinks. It needs to be given time. But how much time and at what cost is the worrying part.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2018