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How important is food regulation for Pakistan?

Safer food means better health. The government would have to invest much less in good food regulation systems than it would in public health if people continue to consume toxic food items. 

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Pakistan, to date, struggles with food safety and security, as there is an absence of quality food regulation systems which inevitably paves way for food insecurity. The problem lies in how the country sets its priorities, it seems as though food regulation is at the very bottom of its priority list.

Pakistan, being an underdeveloped country lacks appropriate mechanisms to ensure food hygiene and safety. It is a widely known fact that food safety and public health go hand in hand. More often than not, due to a lack of hygiene practices and monitoring, foods are contaminated with lead, pesticides, aflatoxins, pathogens et cetera. 

Read more: Ensuring Food Security in Pakistan

This contamination is one of the major reasons for food and waterborne illness like cholera and diarrhea, and in extreme cases, diseases like cancer. Developing countries like Pakistan often struggle with such diseases and illnesses because millions of people die every year as a result. This gives us all the more reasons to realize the grave importance of food regulation in a country like Pakistan. 

Globalization and industrialization have altered the food industry significantly. The world saw a surge in the demand for processed foods. As a result, the Pakistan Standards for Quality Control and Authority was formed in 1996. However, it did not bring any significant changes or contributions to Pakistan’s food regulation.

Read more: Universal health insurance in KPK manifests PM Imran Khan’s priorities

Punjab Food Authority’s (PFA) existence brought a ray of hope for the Pakistani food industry. Under the supervision of Ayesha Mumtaz, the Director-General for PFA, numerous food factories, facilities, and restaurants were raided and inspected. 2017-18 saw 43,689 inspections, 747 closures, and 25,000 fines and improvement notices, reported Dawn. 

PFA’s annual performance report for 2020 revealed that it had closed 9,221 food facilities, out of the 423,323 inspected, reported The News. PFA’s current Director-General, Rafaqat Ali Nissvana revealed that 2,082 facilities were given the Emergency Prohibition Order and 35,618 were fined for violating SOPs of hygiene standards.

Read more: Sehat Sahulat Program: The incredible story of Universal Health Coverage in Pakistan

PFA’s success paved way for the formation of the Sindh Food Authority, Kyber Pakhtunkhwa Food Safety and Halal Food Authority, and the Balochistan Food Authority. 

It is imperative to note here that it is not the most ideal thing to impose strict rules and regulations of food standards and quality, especially for Pakistan’s pandemic-struck economy. However, it is also pertinent to acknowledge that turning a blind eye would not do any good for the country either. The country would lose millions if not billions in terms of health costs as food unsafety is a guaranteed path towards severe illnesses and diseases. 

Ensuring efficient food mechanisms for food regulations would salvage the economy from both problems. Safer food means better health. The government would have to invest much less in good food regulation systems than it would in public health if people continue to consume toxic food items. 

Read more: Increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods a cause for concern for our health

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