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Tuesday June 25, 2024

Hapless consumers

By Mansoor Ahmad
September 21, 2023

LAHORE: With rates of edibles at historic high, the sale of substandard products has added to the miseries of the consumers who are paying through their nose despite uncertainty over the quality of food they are consuming.

Each provincial government claims that the quality of the edibles would be strictly monitored. The regulators fail to realise that after the opening of the economy and availability of imported processed food, consumers are aware of the stark differences between the foods and daily use imported items and similar products made locally.

First, all the ingredients on the imported items are clearly mentioned on the packaging. The expiry date is mentioned even on toilet soaps. All types of toothpastes have an expiry date. Manufacturing and expiry date is mentioned on each edible packed item.

This includes jams, marmalade, prickles, sauces, drinks, juices, custard, jelly, chocolate, wheat flour and its preparations, edible oil, butter, biscuits, rice, sweets, potato chips and even frozen meat or any item that is consumed by a human being or even pets. The labels clearly mention that only food colours have been used in the preparation.

In Pakistan, only the expiry date is mentioned without exception on medicines only. There are few exceptions in this as well as no expiry date is mentioned on medicated toothpastes that contain drugs for treating teeth. The manufacturers naturally do not mention the expiry date on normal toothpastes as well.

The practice of revealing the ingredients and expiry date on edible oil and ghee preparations was introduced in 1998 by the PML-N run Punjab government. This regulation was adhered to by most of the edible oil manufacturers. However, an absence of any check by regulators in recent years has encouraged many manufacturers to ignore this practice as well.

The quality and purity of the edible items is crucial for the general health of the consumers. A number of them get ill after consuming edible items that have expired. This is a great injustice to those who pay the rate for a healthy consumable product, but are cheated by the manufacturers that might have sold them expired items.

This unethical practice has been effectively checked in most of the emerging economies. Manufacturers in these economies dispose of those items that are nearing their expiry date at half or even lower rates. We do not see this practice in Pakistan because they do not have to mention the cut-off date for using edible products.

Reforming manufacturers again would require transparent and strict regulation. As only revealing the ingredients and dates on edible and other daily use items would not ensure purity and quality.

Regulator check and testing of these items would be essential to enforce true compliance. The state machinery at present lacks creditable testing labs in this regard.

The capacity and capability of regulatory institutions would be equally important. These institutions have incompetent and corrupt staff that even let off the retailers that tinker with weights and measures.

A consumer paying for one kilo of an item might end up with 10-20 percent less because standard weights are not used. Food products containing non-food colours are openly sold. Manufacturers still use non-food plastic cans for packing food items. Adulteration in milk, grinded chilies and other such items can only be checked if the regulatory institutions are strong and transparent with competent and honest staff.