Rampant adulteration of foodstuffs has become one of the most serious problems affecting consumers in Kathmandu Valley. Only during the festive season it is more pronounced as most of the traders tend to see it as an opportunity to make hefty profits by selling adulterated food items much to the detriment of large numbers of consumers.
The Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC) has taken action against eleven business outlets in less than a month after they were found selling adulterated food items. And this is just an example as consumer rights activists say that there are many such outlets that sell food and other essential commodities well past the expiration date across the country.
As per the records maintained by DFTQC, 279 complaint cases were filed against various business firms for cheating consumers and promoting unhealthy products last year. Of those cases, 24 percent was related to adulterated/contaiminated food grains, 19 percent concerning adulterated oil and 14 percent regarding bottled water.
Similarly, reports of nearly 14 percent of the vegetables supplied to the Kalimati Fruits and Vegetable Market in Kathmandu being found with a high level of pesticides residue making them unfit for consumption is yet another example of consumers becoming victim of market anomalies. Overcharging customers and artificial price hikes are other common problems. However, the main problem is not lack of effective laws to stop these anomalies alone, but also lack of public awareness regarding adulteration of food items.
Mixing inferior products with high value products to secure better margin, lack of proper processing plants, use of artificial preservatives, lack of sanitation in production areas and improper food storage system, among others, are some of the problems seen in the country that result in production of substandard food items and pose serious risk to human health.
“Mixing low quality ingredients in high-value food products has become one of the most serious problems thesedays,” said Deepak Subedi, spokesperson of Ministry of Commerce and Supply. Subedi said that the government has come up with different mechanisms to tackle such types of adulterations in order to safeguard the people from possible health hazards.
A few years ago, inspections carried out by two separate government departments – Department of Commerce and Supply Management and DFTQC- had revealed that “unhealthy business practices” that has direct bearing on consumers’ health has spiraled out of control.
Pramod Koirala, spokesperson of DFTQC, said they have filed eleven cases against various business outlets (operating both within the valley and outside) for a range anomalies in the last one month alone. Most of these business outlets were dairies and factories producing mineral water.
Koirala said their inspection showed that most of the eateries outside the Valley were afflicted with poor hygiene and sanitation condition, while those operating inside the Valley were found seeling adulterated food items. Sales of packaged foods and drinks, particularly cold drinks, well past their expiration date was found to be rampant outside the Valley.
Madhav Timilsina, president of the Consumer Rights Investigation Forum, said that the consumers’ law has not been strong enough to punish wrongdoers. “There is no mechanism in place through which the government can act promptly or take legal action on the spot.”
Likewise, establishing a consumer court to protect the rights of the consumers in the country has also become a distant dream. Many countries have such courts that make the traders accountable towards the consumers.
Currently, the Department of Commerce and Supplies has five officials to oversee the entire market monitoring and inspection in the Valley. Similarly, the department has just three officials in each of its five district offices for market monitoring and inspection. Likewise, the DFTQC has only six food inspectors to carryout market monitoring and inspection in the Valley and 30 technical officers working in its five regional offices.