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Is Pakistan prepared?

Fauzia Waqar

If safety protocols are ignored in the food value chain, starting from its production till consumption, it could lead to many disastrous diseases. Food-borne diseases pose a major threat to human population globally. Besides lack of nutrient concentration, the quality of food is the immediate cause of widespread infections in the world.
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years. Moreover, children under five years of age carry 40 percent of the food-borne disease burden, with 125,000 deaths every year.
The UN decided in a resolution on December 20, 2018 that June 7 would be marked as World Food Safety Day, with an objective to create awareness regarding the impact of safe food on health. As a double burden, Pakistan also shows the same picture and indicators when it comes to early-years malnutrition. The Nutrition Survey 2011 shows that Pakistan is persistently faced with high, rather worsening, rates of malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies, particularly among women and children. With persisting malnutrition numbers, the lack of availability of safe food is compounding our problem.
One of the best safe measures to avoid the burden of diseases caused by poor quality food is the provision of packaged food, which shows the quality of food origin or the course of its development. Moreover, in addition to safety, packaging determines longevity of the food hence avoiding wastage.
The situation can easily be understood by taking the example of milk. Milk is considered one of the staple foods of Pakistan; and its safety and quality is very important to avoid burden of diseases caused by its poor quality. Statistics reveal that approximately 56 billion liters of milk is produced in Pakistan each year, out of which more than 90 percent is consumed in a loose and untreated state. This quality of milk poses major health threats. As milk is rich in nutrients, it is highly susceptible to bacterial contamination. Hence, it is highly recommended to process milk through pasteurization or ultra-heat treatment to eliminate bacteria and microorganisms and to provide it to consumers in some form of aseptic packaging that can maintain the quality of the milk till it is opened and consumed.
It is striking to note that in Pakistan only five percent of total milk produced is sold in hygienic packaged format, whereas the rest is sold loose without any quality checks. Considering the significance of providing safe and healthy milk, the prime minister has also highlighted the issue of general milk adulteration in his recent speeches and emphasized on the provision of safe milk to avoid preventable burden on health economics.
As food safety standards are regulated at the government level, the role of regulatory authorities becomes vital in this regard. However, it is recommended to take industry expertise on board to bring in necessary scientific knowledge for an inclusive approach. The Punjab Food Authority has already banned loose spices and made it obligatory to sell spices in packets with all basic necessary details written on them. The same action is needed for adulterated loose milk.
As an example, India has targeted selling 70 percent milk as packaged by 2025 under their National Dairy Plan. Turkey is another example to follow as their percentage of packaged milk grew from 30 percent of the total dairy sector in 2002 to 70 percent in 2012 and the government is fully supporting the sector through subsidizing dairy farming and providing a conducive tax regime (VAT exemption) to make it affordable for the people.
As a lesson learnt, Pakistan can also follow Turkey’s pathway and adopt the right policies for the provision of healthy food in the form of safe milk. Budget 2019 is fast approaching; this is the right time for Prime Minister Imran Khan and his government to stand by his words to address the malnutrition prevailing in the country. Strong collaboration between governments, producers and consumers will be an added factor to certify food safety. Effective monitoring by regulatory authorities and strengthened lab facilities to check the quality, enforce harmonized food laws and control food adulteration will definitely make a significant impact to build a healthy nation.

About the author:

The author is a freelance writer.


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