How can food safety be legally enforced?
Food safety is deemed to be an important issue in Bangladesh, as consumers of the country are suffering due to serious adulteration in food. The Bangladesh government observes February 2 as National Food Safety Day to emphasize the issue of food safety every year.
The constitution of Bangladesh gives importance to food safety. For example, Article 15 states: “It shall be a fundamental responsibility of the State to secure provisions of the basic necessities of life including food.”
Bangladesh has many laws and regulations to cover some areas of food safety, but the regulatory frameworks and implementation are still weak. Food safety in Bangladesh was previously regulated by the Bangladesh Pure Food Ordinance (1959) and the Bangladesh Pure Food Rules (1967). The Pure Food Ordinance 1959 (amended) in 2005 was repealed by the Food Safety Act of 2013.
The unique provision of this act is to establish the Pure Food Court, and gives an exclusive mandate ensuring the goals of the act though the Pure Food Court. This is a stringent and effective law on food governance and justice regulating food management in the legal sphere.
The maximum punishment for violating the act is up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of up to Tk10 lakh.
The punishment for every offense will be doubled if anyone commits it more than once. The punishment is severe and the monetary fine is also huge compared to other laws of the land.
As the mandate of the act, the government has empowered Senior Judicial Magistrate Court-1 in the district level, and more than one court in the metropolitan area as the Pure Food Court for trial.
By the notification of Law and Justice Division of the ministry concerned, 71 courts across the country were empowered to try offenses under the Food Safety Act of 2013. It is ironic that no new, separate pure food court has been established in the country.
Additional charges on the existing magistrate courts have already placed a huge burden on the system. The BFSA claims that each court has been assigned a public prosecutor. In practice, we don’t notify any public prosecutor in the court for cases.
Practically, in the Pure Food Court, there is no case on food safety matters under this act across the country except in Dhaka.
The local and central authorities are silent and inactive about the filing of cases in the court, and receive complaints from the consumers. Food safety authorities published a special supplement on the celebration of National Food Safety Day 2020 where the activities of the authorities were provided.
But there was no information about the regular filing of cases in the pure food courts across the country, whereas the detail of mobile courts was supplied. That means the 71 “pure food courts” are misnomers when it comes to ensuring food safety.
The Food Safety Act of 2013 is a very progressive law to entertain the complaints of aggrieved persons and take action on the spot.
Section 66(1) of the act says: “Any person, including food purchaser, consumer, food receiver, or user, may lodge a complaint in writing to the Chairman or any person authorized by him on this behalf or an Inspector, in respect of any anti-food safety practice under this Act.”
But in practice, people are unaware of the application of this provision.
The legal promise is to call people to file complaints. For such public awareness, Section 62 of the act approves 25% of incentives to the complainant, like the Consumer Protection Act of 2009.
This provision is also not well-known to people. Considering the above provisions, it is crystal clear that the act contains wonderful provisions to file complaints to the local authorities concerned, and lodge a case in the Pure Food Court directly. By the filing of the case, the complainant can get a good compensation from the fine as incentive for social action.
To ensure consumer rights effectively, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) within 2030 on food safety, it is necessary to establish a separate and active pure food court to deal with cases of violation of consumer rights and food adulteration.
Moreover, the pure food court can conduct mobile courts for initiating summary trials on the spot. Recently, in some districts of the country such as Rajshahi, Bandarban, Patuakhali, and Chandpur, magistrate courts have conducted pure food court on the spot and taken legal actions for food safety justice.
The pure food court is the mainstream authority to ensure food safety justice, but such courts are in the dark when we cry out for justice and action for food safety and health.
Md Zakir Hossain is a member of Bangladesh Judicial Service and Senior Judicial Magistrate, Chief Judicial Magistrate Court, Feni.