Today, 7th June is World Food Safety day. While we generally enjoy reviewing new food outlets and talking about new recipes, let us not forget the horrifying fact that Bangladesh ranks in the bottom 10 countries in terms of food safety alongside Sierra Leone, Togo, Mozambique, Zambia, Yemen, Guinea, Congo, Madagascar, Cambodia.
Bangladesh ranks the lowest among all the South Asian countries in the Global Food Security Index. This ranking is designed and constructed by The Economist Intelligence Unit.
Bangladesh ranks at 84th, Nepal's position is 77th, India becomes 71st and Pakistan is at the 80th position. The top three countries in the index are Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands. Bangladesh's position in The Global Food Security Index has dropped for the second time in a row.
To prepare The Global Food Security Index, the Economist Intelligence Unit counts the issues of food affordability, food availability, quality and safety, and natural resources and resilience of 113 countries.
Comparison with some countries will make it easy to understand the scenario. The first position holder in the index in the Netherlands and it scores impressively well in affordability (90.6), availability (82.0), quality and safety (93.8), natural resources and resilience (73.2).
Bangladesh ranks 84th and scores in the same categories- affordability (48.3), availability (64.4), quality and safety (40.9) and natural resources and resilience (35.8).
So, what Bangladesh can do to rank higher in the index? The answer is simple, putting effort into the index factors.
To start, the affordability of food should be the first focus. Affordability can be increased in two ways, either by reducing or subsidising food prices especially for the poor, who do not get the minimum amount of nutrition in their meals every day.
In 2018, the minimum wage for garment workers was set at BDT 8,000. After spending the basic costs, it is not hard to assume how much money is left for quality food with least minimum nutrition. Ability to have only white rice three times a day will not help the ranking at all.
The price of medium quality rice is BDT 50 per kg. The price of one kg of lentils is BDT 119, one kg of chicken costs BDT 160. The price of soybean oil costs around BDT 142 per litre. Onion costs BDT 55 per kg. One-piece egg costs BDT 8.
The people of this country can spend BDT 60 per capita on daily food. This amount is allocated for three meals a day. This figure of per capita expenditure for food has been obtained by analysing the 2016's household income and expenditure survey data of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).
In four categories of the index, Bangladesh scores the best in the food availability section with a score of 64.4, food is indeed available in Bangladesh. Solvent people do not find it hard to avail all sorts of nutritious food. But it is not available for the needy.
As stated in a survey released in April by the Power and Participation Research Center (PPRC) and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), a private research institute, 24.5 million people became newly impoverished during the pandemic.
Even if food is available, due to the price, this new poor class alongside the old one will not be able to avail nutritious food which can push Bangladesh to a lower rank in the index in the next year.
The next challenge of this country rests in the category of quality and safety where Bangladesh scored 40.9. In this category, India scored 59.0, Nepal scored 48.0. Bangladesh is below these neighbouring countries.
In Bangladesh, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find fresh food. No food bought from the market is fresh anymore. According to the World Health Organization, about 600 million people worldwide get sick each year from eating adulterated and contaminated food. Out of this number, 4 lakh 42 thousand people die.
Here, chemicals are used in the name of food preservation, as are pesticides used in agriculture that poison food. Therefore, with the increase in the average life expectancy of the people of Bangladesh, various diseases are also increasing.
Bangladesh has laws to regulate food safety. Under the Safe Food Act of 2013, 23 types of offences are punishable by one to five years imprisonment and a fine of BDT 4 lakh to BDT 20 lakh. However, in some countries of the world, there is a provision of life imprisonment and even the death penalty for such crimes.
But there are questions about the application of this law, that is to say, there are not many cases filed under this law. It will be a struggle to find a remarkable case under this law.
The last factor, natural resources and resilience can be seen as an external factor. But we have to fight it, not only for the ranking but for the future of Bangladesh.
This category evaluates a country's exposure to the impacts of a changing climate, besides its sensitivity to natural resource risks and how the country is adjusting to these risks, all of which impact the issue of food insecurity in a country.
The category comprises vulnerability to climate shocks, water and land quality matters, population pressures, and measures of the government to address the impacts of climate change on agriculture.
The theme of this year's world food safety day is 'Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow'. There is no substitute for safe and nutritious food to ensure public health. Eating unsafe food can lead to serious health risks including cancer, kidney disease and disability.
Our state should ensure safe food, especially for the poor- old and newly formed poor class. In total, 60 million people are poor in Bangladesh. We can't be a prosperous nation without ensuring safe food and ignoring food safety for one-third of the population. If there is no food safety, the idea of safe food for all seems like a thing of utopia.
Saiful Bari is a student at the Department of Law and Human Rights, The University of Asia Pacific.