Feasts and Fables

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webnexttech | Feasts and Fables
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On June 7, 2024, the world celebrated International Food Safety Day, a day devoted to the culinary riches that unite us and the fundamental right to safe, nutritious food. Yet, in Punjab, Pakistan’s fertile crescent, the reality of this right remains a distant dream. Despite the Punjab Food Authority (PFA) wielding a budget that runs into billions, the promise of clean, pure food is often an illusion, a cruel mirage in a land where the harvests are bountiful but the integrity of what reaches our tables is in question. The PFA was envisioned as a sentinel of food safety, tasked with guarding public health through rigorous inspections, crackdowns on adulteration, and campaigns to educate the masses. However, the streets of Lahore, Faisalabad, and Multan tell a different story-one where the milk is diluted, spices are laced with toxins, and the daily bread comes with hidden dangers. Adulteration is an insidious enemy. It seeps into our food supply, contaminating everything from the milk we pour into our children’s glasses to the spices that add zest to our traditional dishes. This not only imperils our health but also sows distrust among the public. Laws may be stringent, but their enforcement is another tale – one often marred by corruption and inefficiency, where loopholes are exploited by those who prioritise profit over purity. Adulteration is an insidious enemy that seeps into our food supply, contaminating everything from the milk we pour into our children’s glasses to the spices. The PFA’s approach has been largely reactive. High-profile raids and sensational closures of food establishments make for gripping headlines but do little to address systemic flaws. What we need is a transformation in how food safety is managed – a shift from reactive measures to a proactive strategy. This involves refining supply chains, bolstering food testing laboratories, and instilling a culture of compliance within the food industry. Public awareness is the cornerstone of any lasting change. While the PFA has made strides in educating consumers about food safety, these efforts need to be relentless and far-reaching. An informed public can drive demand for higher standards and push businesses towards greater accountability. On this International Food Day, a critical question looms: How can Punjab bridge the chasm between the PFA’s mission and the grim realities faced by its citizens? The answer lies in a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach. Firstly, the regulatory framework must be fortified, and its implementation ensured with unwavering rigour. This includes continuous training for PFA officials and harnessing technology to enhance the monitoring and traceability of food products. Secondly, the government must support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the food sector, helping them to adopt best practices through financial incentives, technical assistance, and better infrastructure. Finally, we must look outward, seeking collaboration with international bodies and learning from global best practices. Countries with robust food safety systems can offer valuable insights into building a framework that guarantees the delivery of clean and pure food. The road to ensuring clean and pure food in Punjab is arduous and demands a concerted effort from all sectors-government, industry, and the public. On this International Food Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to a safer, healthier food ecosystem. Punjab, with its abundant resources and rich heritage, deserves better. Its people deserve better. It is time to hold the Punjab Food Authority accountable, transforming its budget from a bureaucratic treasure chest into a guarantor of public health. Let us dismantle the fables of food purity and replace them with a reality where every meal, every bite, is a testament to the promise of safety and nourishment. The writer is a freelance columnist.

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