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Monday April 15, 2024

Selective activism

PFA, discarded over eight million litres of unhealthy and adulterated milk during last seven years

By Enem Ali Abbas
March 04, 2024
IFA workers disposing of substandard milk in the drain on February 17, 2024. — Facebook/Islamabad Food Authority
IFA workers disposing of substandard milk in the drain on February 17, 2024. — Facebook/Islamabad Food Authority

Of all the things Pakistanis lack, objective reasoning is the deadliest of all. Our blind support for political icons and our influenced opinions on current affairs are actually the main cause of the chaos and unrest.

The recent resignation of the Rawalpindi commissioner split national opinion into two opposing viewpoints. Those benefitting by his statements were calling him a hero and those influenced otherwise questioning his sanity.

This lack of objective reasoning actually gives birth to selective awareness and selective activism which in turn are extraordinarily dangerous. Selective awareness had an impact on election results and also has a certain kind of impact on our routine lives.

It is an established fact that Pakistanis are foodies but when it comes to food safety, we are one of the most food-safety-illiterate nation. We know how to assess the quality of clothes we buy, we know the kind of concrete, bricks and cement we need to construct our homes with but when it comes to food – which is our identity – we just consume anything and everything that comes our way.

This is also an example of selective awareness and we, as consumers, are a threat to ourselves. The food safety regulatory body in Punjab – the Punjab Food Authority – discarded over eight million litres of unhealthy and adulterated milk during the last seven years, which means if left unchecked it could have resulted in consumption by at least 16 million people or more.

The PFA had its inspection regime in place to restrict movement of hazardous or unhealthy milk but a consumer turns a blind eye to unhealthy food items. A neighbour turns a deaf ear to manufacturing units operational in his street where mafia produces such unhealthy food items.

We, as a nation, need to be vigilant and aware about our food habits. Fortunately, the government is tightening the noose on adulteration mafia, a milk registration campaign has been launched. Under this campaign, the provincial government in Punjab is bringing milk carrying vehicles and even milkmen under their inspection regime. This was the missing link that has finally been tapped. The inspection regime is already yielding results; the milk discarding percentage was 2.0 per cent previously and now it has come down to 0.5 per cent despite the fact that inspection reach has been increased to its maximum capacity during the recent months. This establishes the fact that the deterrence from the government’s end is resulting in prevention of adulteration.

The second most important deterrence could be consumer and community responsibility. Citizens need to play their part, get the milk checked at the lab, inform about any activity that involves food adulteration and let’s give ourselves a healthy chance.

Such initiatives in Punjab have positioned the province as a model province and the credit goes to the civil bureaucracy for their commitment to work regardless of the political scenario. Fortunately, the current DG of the Civil Services Academy is training civil servants on the same pattern, with the same vision: creating public value. This ideology of training civil servants to conceive and implement impactful initiatives in line with the Sustainable Development Goals is introducing a wiser generation of civil servants. Such officers wouldn’t bank on summaries of huge financial sums to create and transfer the benefits of policies and initiatives to the people.

Now comes the big question: the governance style of Maryam Nawaz. Her father has been the chief minister of Punjab, and a three-time prime minister of Pakistan. Her uncle has been the most popular chief minister of Punjab, and has been Pakistan’s prime minister and is also set to become the prime minister again. Her cousin has also been the chief minister, although for a brief period, of the same province.

Her comparison would be with Shehbaz Sharif as he has left big shoes for her to fill and, surprisingly, the same former chief minister has endorsed the caretaker chief minister’s speed during the last one year. As far as her initial days in office are concerned, it is said that she has managed to garner the confidence of the civil bureaucracy because she’s aware of the fact that her party delivered in Punjab better than any other party in any of the provinces because of civil servants. Work efficiency and commitment of civil bureaucracy are the linchpin of this successful delivery model in the province.


The writer is a freelance journalist. He has also served as mediaadviser to the World Bank and Unicef-funded healthcare and tourism related projects in Punjab. He tweets/posts @EAAgop