Toxic kitchen of the world

Toxic kitchen of the world

Thailand has positioned itself, proudly, as the "kitchen of the world". Alas, famous Thai foods, our precious culinary heritage and its potential to contribute to the country's growth and development will come to naught if authorities do not wake up and take serious action on food safety. Two recent findings should give state agencies, especially those concerned with food safety and public health, a serious jolt.

The Foundation for Consumers, last Thursday, revealed that its random testing of 15 brands of sausages found that only one did not contain nitrates or nitrites, food preservative chemicals that must be limited to 80 milligrammes per kilo of meat under the United Nations' Codex or Food Code standard. Among them, three brands were found to have contained more nitrates and nitrites than the amount allowed for safety under the Food Code.

What is noteworthy, however, is while only six out of the 15 brands displayed the use of nitrates and nitrites on their nutritional labels, they only did so using the numeric code for food additives, 250, which ordinary consumers would probably not know stands for sodium nitrite.

As the foundation noted, sausages are a popular food among Thais, claiming a market value of more than 35 billion baht a year. That is about 300,000 tonnes of product being consumed. The situation is no better for people who believe they would be safer sticking to a vegetarian diet.

Earlier in the same week, the Thai-Pesticide Alert Network (Thai-Pan) revealed that its testing of samples of popular fruits and vegetables in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ubon Ratchathani showed that 46.6% contained residues higher than the accepted standards.

What is devastating, especially for agricultural and food authorities, is that according to the test, conducted on 138 samples collected from March 16 to 18, 57% of fruits and vegetables granted the "Q mark" by the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards were found to be contaminated at unsafe levels. As if that is not enough, 25% or one quarter of the products sampled that are certified as being organic, which were supposed to be free of chemicals, were found to contain chemical residues exceeding the accepted standards as well. These findings point to multiple failures on the part of state authorities.

As regulators, agencies tasked with ensuring food safety standards, including the Public Health Ministry's Food and Drugs office and Ministry of Agriculture, should be extra vigilant about monitoring food quality.

It is embarrassing that they must be told of their shortcomings and prodded into action by non-governmental organisations which took the time to collect samples themselves and send them to be tested in private labs -- in the United Kingdom in the case of Thai-Pan.

Also, the information, though shocking, is not entirely new. Academic institutions, including Mahidol University, presented surveys with similar results in the past. The fact that the problem persists only testifies to a lack of enforcement and possible systemic failure by the state to ensure effective food safety for consumers.

The problem of food safety is no longer limited to the quality and cleanliness of raw materials these days. The amount of sodium and sugar that Thai people consume on average each day has been found to exceed recommended standards as well. The "addiction" to saltiness and sweetness is contributing to a rise in non-communicable diseases, including cancers and diabetes, which claim the lives of 300,000 Thais each year and contribute to a higher death rate here than in other countries.

To tackle the problem at its source, the entire food safety mechanism must be revamped to ensure that citizens consume the good, clean foods to which they are entitled.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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