'Playing with people’s health’: Bangladesh High Court in astonishing attack on government agency over adulterated dairy scandal
The BSTI had told the court that it would only look into ‘only 18 companies which were given license for producing and supplying pasteurised milk and curd'.
This was because it claimed that all other unlicensed companies should fall under the responsibility of the Directorate of Agriculture Extension and the Ministry of Livestocks and Fisheries instead, according to The Daily Star,
In response, the High Court’s Justices Md Nazrul Islam and KM Hafizul Alam said: “We are astonished at your statement. Who has given you the right to play ducks and drakes with the people’s health? They have no license, but they are producing and supplying milk! Who is responsible for looking into it?”
Legal advocate for the Anti-Corruption Commission Syed Mamun Mahbub and Deputy Attorney General AKM Amin Uddin Manik also protested the BSTI’s claim, saying that it had already been given legal authority to act, and was ‘diverting the responsibility to others’.
Further to this, the High Court ordered all government organisations with connection to this issue ‘not to disturb’ Professor Shahnila Ferdousi of the National Food Safety Laboratory (NFSL) who first brought the issue of serious dairy adulteration in the country to attention, after her lawyer revealed that she had been ‘disturbed and pressed’ with regard to her research.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority was also in hot water when, along with BSTI it failed to submit the dairy adulteration report by the due deadline of June 23, and requested more time for this. The deadline has been extended to July 15.
Food and especially dairy adulteration has been an ongoing issue for the country, so much so that the government has considered implementing the death penalty or life imprisonment as a stronger deterrent.
On the same day, BSTI had submitted a report claiming that only two of 305 sample it had tested were substandard/adulterated.
Two days later on June 25, it submitted another set of findings to the High Court saying that ‘no traces of dangerous elements’ were found in the 18 pasteurised milk samples it had tested from 14 well-known brands.
According to Dhaka Tribune, these brands which were ‘cleared’ were: Aarong Dairy, Aftab, Ayran, Cowhead Pure Milk, Dairy Fresh, Farm Fresh Milk, Igloo, Milk Fresh, Milkvita, MOO, Pran Milk, Pura, Tania, and Ultra.
However, the very next day on June 26, bdnews24 reported that researchers from the University of Dhaka’s Faculty of Pharmacy claimed to have found antibiotics and detergent in multiple samples of milk brands they had analysed.
Seven milk brands had been analysed, all of which had previously been cleared by BSTI in their report: The faculty said it had tested Aarong, Farm Fresh, Igloo, Igloo Chocolate, and Igloo Mango, Milkvita and Pran.
The findings included the alleged presence of levofloxacin and ciprofloxacin in all seven brands tested, azithromycin in six of the brands, total bacteria count above legal levels in all samples, and fat and non-fat substances below allowable standards.
Several of these brands including Aarong and Igloo issued statements saying that their milk had been tested by BSTI and/or BFSA.
Director of the Dhaka University Centre for Biomedical Research Professor ABM Faroque revealed these findings during a press conference at the university, saying: “We will not survive; we will die soon if the antibiotics are used randomly. To save human lives, please stop using antibiotics on animals that are meant for humans.”
BSTI legal counsel MR Hasan Mamun said that these findings could be due to inconsistent quality.
“These were alright when we collected the samples. Maybe there were some variations when they (Dhaka University) collected the samples,” he added.
That said, Dhaka University Pharmacy Department Chairman Professor Sitesh Chandra Bachar later issued an official release denying any formal connection between the department and the research that had been publicised.
“The Pharmacy Department is not taking any responsibility for the research that was published in different mass media outlets, as the findings were prepared based on a teacher’s personal research and the department has no involvement with it,” he said.