Who to ensure food safety?

Who to ensure food safety?

After the practice of some errant poultry traders to dye their farm chickens with yellow dye to pass them of as "kampung chickens" was exposed by the Sin Chew Daily, consumers were shocked and once again, the people's concern has been drawn to food safety.

It is not the first time to discover tainted food in the country. There were rumours about tainted pork meat, tainted vegetables, tainted fish in the past. And the practice of cooking with recycled oil had once triggered a hubbub in the country. Food safety issues have always caused panic in the society.

In fact, food safety is an international problem as many food products are produced in and sold to other countries around the world. Therefore, when tainted food news were spread, including harmful ingredients found in some food products from China, Taiwanese starch-based products found to contain maleic acid and milk powders from New Zealand were found tainted, it caused a panic among retailers, who either pulled the products from shelves or sent them to the authorities for testing.

However, there are so many tainted food products in the market. The eating habits in the 21st century has come to a perilous state and it is quite impossible for the innocent consumers to guard against all tainted food. Who should ensure food safety then?

Tainted food cases in our country are obviously much lesser compared to China and Taiwan. However, there are two possible factors. First of all, it might be because our food safety regulations and supervision are stringent while the penalties are heavy and thus, food manufacturers and traders dare not to defy the laws. However, another possibility is, our food safety regulations and supervision are too loose and therefore, we are not able to detect tainted food even if they have flooded the market.

The former possibility will be a blessing for the people while the latter will for sure be a curse. What we are most worried about is the latter situation, namely harmful additives have long been used and consumers have consumed them for long without noticing it, as no immediate negative effect could be sensed until health is harmed and everything becomes irrevocable facts.

Based on past experience, the authorities in our country would usually conduct sample testing and issue off-shelf order only after the health department of foreign countries have detected safety problems of their food products. Does such a practice indicate a big loophole in our country's food inspection and supervision work?

Some time ago, 13 products sold at the Kedai Rakyat 1Malaysia were taken off the shelves due to non-compliance of product composition and labelling and not in terms of food safety. However, no action has been taken against the involved suppliers. Such an appeasement attitude is indeed unacceptable.

Food safety is a major issue that must be taken seriously by the government and definitely, no compromise should be allowed. As consumers, all we hope is to buy and eat with a peace of mind. It does not rely only on the conscience of food manufacturers and traders, but also the government's efforts in strengthening regulations and supervision on food products. In particular, the departments responsible for food hygiene and safety must perform their tasks well. In addition to strict enforcement, strict supervision is equally important. Even if they are not able to have perfect control, they must at least minimise the existence possibility of tainted food in the market to protect people's health!

Translated by Soong Phui Jee

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