Food safety is a concern of everyone. Given that food intake is the fundamental precondition for survival, food safety issues embrace us all the time. Food safety simply means that what we eat, chew or drink is safe for human health. In order to ensure that people get safe food, multidimensional approaches have to be taken at all levels of a food chain e. g. production, storage, supply, distribution, and consumption, etc. The government and citizens are two major stakeholders in any approach to food safety.
Food producers and food industry also play very important role in ensuring food safety, but this is not discussed in this paper. The focus of this paper rests on the role of government and citizens in achieving food safety through enforcement of proper legislation. Though implementation of legislative measures is basically the mandate of the state, citizens have also a major role to play in any legislative scheme. The state provides a legal framework that lays down certain conditions for those involved in provision of food to the people.
These conditions may include prohibition of the sale of adulterated goods, compliance with prescribed technical specifications, bio-safety guidelines, etc. Most of the countries around the world have developed their own legal frameworks for ensuring food safety, notwithstanding the effectiveness of these frameworks. Pakistan does not have an integrated legal framework but has a set of laws, which deals with various aspects of food safety. These laws, despite the fact that they were enacted long time ago, have tremendous capacity to achieve at least minimum level of food safety.
However, like many other laws, these laws remain very poorly enforced. This paper argues that, notwithstanding the financial constraints involved, the major reason for poor enforcement of food safety laws is the lack of demand from citizens. It is hardly any exaggeration to say that there is no public monitoring of the food safety legislation at all. It is for this reason that relevant government authorities have had shown little will in enforcing these laws. This paper presents a brief overview of the existing national laws that deal with food safety.
Then, the paper finds out some entry points where citizens can play their role in making these laws more effective. Laws Dealing with Food Safety in Pakistan There exist a large number of food laws in Pakistan. However, most of them deal with control of production, distribution and supply of food, in addition to dealing with profiteering and hoarding. There are four laws that specifically deal with food safety. Three of these laws directly focus issues related to food safety, while the fourth one namely Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority Act, is indirectly relevant to food safety.
A brief overview of these laws is given below: The Pure Food Ordinance, 1960 consolidates and amends the law in relation to the preparation and the sale of foods. All provinces and some northern areas have adopted this law with certain amendments. Its aim is to ensure purity of food being supplied to people in the market and, therefore, provides for preventing adulteration. The law prohibits any person to mix, colour, stain or powder any food, if the mixing involves violation of prescribed rules or is likely to make the food injurious for health.
The prescribed rules set standards for colouring, preservatives, flavouring compounds, antioxidants, stabilisers, anti-caking agent, non-nutritive constituents, and metals. The law also prohibits sale, preparation, manufacture, import or export of such food for human consumption, which is unsound, unwholesome, or injurious to health, in addition to misbranded food items. Besides, the law sets rules for labeling of pre-packed food and precautionary measures to be taken during storage, stocking and packing.
There are four criterion adopted by the law to ensure purity of food: a) it prohibits manufacturing/preparation or processing of such food, which is likely to be unsafe for human consumption, e. g. any food which can cause food poisoning; b) it prohibits import, export or sale of unsafe food; c) sets out certain hygiene standards; d) provides for inspection and laboratory analysis of food samples according to a set criterion. ‘Local authority’, which is designated by the government, is responsible for enforcing the Ordinance within its jurisdiction.
The law is not uniform in all areas. Even penalties of the same offence vary in provinces. Furthermore, the law is silent about award of compensation or damages to consumers. The Pure Food Ordinance 1960 does not apply to cantonment areas. There is separate law for cantonments called “The Cantonment Pure Food Act, 1966”. There is no substantial difference between the Pure Food Ordinance 1960 and The Cantonment Pure Food Act. Even the rules of operation are very much similar. In August 2003, the Federal Cabinet increased the punishment for adulterators to 25 years imprisonment.
This increase is extremely higher than the punishment provided in the Pure Food Ordinance 1960, which ranges between imprisonment from 1 to 5 years and a fine ranging between Rs. 100 to Rs. 1 lakh. Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP), a national non-profit civil initiative working for articulation and protection of consumer rights, opposed the decision on the ground that ‘it is not the stringency or strictness of the punishment but its certainty, which ensures compliance.
Authorities have not been able to obtain convictions even under the existing laws. Increase in punishment cannot be a substitute for an efficient and corruption-free administrative and a judicial system, which has the capacity as well as the will to enforce the punishment sanctioned under existing laws. ” Pakistan Hotels and Restaurant Act, 1976 applies to all hotels and restaurants in Pakistan and seeks to control and regulate the rates and standard of service(s) by hotels and restaurants.
In addition to other provisions, under section 22(2), the sale of food or beverages that are contaminated, not prepared hygienically or served in utensils that are not hygienic or clean is an offense. This law does not specifically mention right to consumers to lodge a complaint. However, this does not prevent either any person to address a complaint to a Controller, which is appointed by the Federal Government for enforcement of the Act. Consideration of the complaint is a matter of jurisdiction of the Controller. Moreover, like other food laws, it does not provide for compensation to consumers in case of damages.
The Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority Act, 1996 is a relevant law; although it is not classified as a “food law”. This Act provides for the establishment of Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA), which is the apex body to formulate standards or adopt international standards. It is also responsible for enforcement of standards in the whole of Pakistan and has the mandate to inspect and test products and services, including food items, for their quality, specification and characteristics during use, and for import and export purposes.