A recent study has claimed that presence of toxic elements (9.7 microgram) in our blood far outweighs the tolerable amount (0.2 microgram) of toxicity. Indeed, there is a feast of adulteration all around resulting in consumption of poison — day in, day out. Don’t you think that we, as a nation, have wilfully become a hostage to the poison-mongers? Why is there no crusade against constant poisoning of ourselves and our posterity unless we have not become poison-friendly?
Once, mach (fish) and bhat (rice) were so abundant that they were, so to speak, identical with the Bengali race. And now, more and more species of fishes are getting beyond the reach of general people mainly due to exorbitant prices. Then again, fishes have been turned into virtual poison-pills by some unscrupulous traders, in absence of — barring a few abrupt raids — strict and consistent interventions. And also there is no reason to think that traders are selling these formalin-treated and other poisonous items at a reasonable rate.
Rather, we are buying death or deadly diseases and that too, at a very high price. Reportedly, 98 percent of the fish available in the markets are treated with formalin and other toxic chemicals. Same is the case with many other food items ranging from various types of fruits to milk, fruit juice, drinks, fast food items and so on.
The adulteration extravaganza reaches its peak during the month of Ramadan. But it persists throughout the year. Chemicals intended for textile use and lubricants intended for vehicles are used extensively for making delicious food items. Formalin — basically used for preserving dead bodies — is not being used for preserving fishes only; it is increasingly being used for preserving other food items, vegetables, fruits, milk, etc.
Strangely the issue, however serious it is, has not yet received the attention it deserves from either the government or the people in general. A strange sense of benumbed acceptance seems to have taken over us.
According to doctors, formalin-treated fishes and other food items are largely responsible for various diseases. Apart from normal stomach-related diseases, other ailments these poisonous food items are responsible of are skin diseases, renal failure, liver cirrhosis, asthma, cancer and so on. Yes, even looking at formalin-treated fishes can cause damage to corneas. Inhalation can cause lung and throat cancer while touching it can cause skin diseases. Thus, formalin-users are also susceptible to its damaging effects. Though diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery can be diagnosed and treated rather quickly and easily, more serious diseases that take time to infect our bodies become more difficult to cure.
Physicians have rightly raised their fingers at food adulteration and toxicity as major causes of increasing number of deformed children. The deformity can be both physical as well as mental. Reportedly, the number of physically and mentally handicapped children has increased lately and only the sufferers know how agonising the lives of such children and their families can be.
General people want relief from this but they have very few options to resort to. They do not have the mechanism to detect adulteration in food items. There were not even a formalin-kit and it was only in the recent past that the scientists from our Science Laboratory came up with one. Follow-up is, however, missing to a degree.
In this land of teeming millions, the masses are hostages to the traders. And, some traders are playing with the lives of general people capitalising on this. The anti-adulteration drives are few and far between and also it hasn’t created the desired impact on the traders for they don’t seem to have stopped their toxic business even after being punished. Reportedly, many revert to former tricks even after being punished. A vicious cycle of adulteration seems to have developed which needs to be debunked through rigorous actions.
On no grounds should the adulterators be shown leniency. Formulation of a stringent anti-adulteration act and strict execution of it is the need of the hour to save us and the younger generation from being poisoned everyday.
If people are forced to take in adulterated food incessantly, there might not be enough healthy and intelligent people left or forthcoming to represent a sane and sound society in near future.
Kazi S M Khasrul Alam Quddusi is the chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Chittagong