Commemorating World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD): March 15, 2015

“Unhealthy diets are now greater threat to health and killer than tobacco’ Says UN Rapporteur. In order to address this challenge the theme of World Consumer Rights Day that is celebrated globally on March 15th is “ Healthy Diets” for 2015.

Date: March 16, 2015

Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (CRCP) organized a Discussion Forum on the theme with a view to generate a debate and influence policy makers and government to ensure safe food for all Pakistanis. Mr. Abrar Hafeez, Secretary General, CRCP while presenting the plight of common consumers said that around two million deaths are caused due to unsafe food annually. He particularly highlighted two serious deficits on the part of the government that retard citizens’ possibility to access safe food in Pakistan.

First is the unavailability of reliable data and essential information to the consumers by the government to make informed choices on various local and imported food items. He referred to number of statistics that are dated and not updated regularly. According to some statistics 70% adulterated food and 52% adulterated mineral water is being sold in the market which is dangerous for human consumption. According to another report there is 35% microbiological contamination in bottled water and 1 kilogram of pure milk is being mixed with 39 kg of contaminated milk consisting of Urea, bleaching powder and other poisonous chemicals. High Level of pesticides content is present in grains, pulses, in fruits and vegetables that we eat. A plethora of food related diseases are dominating the health problems in Pakistan, besides also being a major economic threat.

Secondly, Pakistan has not been able to come up with comprehensive and coherent legal and policy framework to address the challenges that have been thrown up by the developments in food and biological sciences as it has raised new concerns related to food production chain. Many countries have prepared food regulations for production, packaging and labeling of ingredients used in the preparation of food items.

Highlighting the inefficient legal framework the participants commented that: Pakistan does not have an integrated legal framework but has a set of laws, which deals with various aspects of food safety coupled with institutions like Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) entrusted with enforcement and monitoring. These laws and institutions, despite the fact that they were put in place quiet a long time ago, still have huge capacity deficits remain inefficient. The participants also commented and pointed to the lack of demand from citizens as major reason for poor enforcement mechanism of food safety. It would not be any exaggeration to say that public monitoring of food safety is virtually non-existing. Due to lack of complaints generated from the citizens at large using Consumer Protection Legislation, Pure Food Laws and other relevant legislations available at provincial level, the relevant government authorities have had shown little will in enforcing these laws and providing relief to the consumers. The participants emphasized on the dire need of formulating of a national policy on food safety and its strict implementation in food chain. They said that the lack of a national policy not only has threatened food safety but had even led the country into troubled waters. The panel also said that the scope of quality assurance has widened from product to the processes and now to the overall performance of the food industry, but the food industry in Pakistan at large still needs to go a long way in ensuring provision of safe food to the consumers and the relevant government institutions need to play active part in realizing this fact and in protecting consumer interests.