It has been ages since Pakistan food industry has been flourishing, but the food safety has never been a priority. The country has always lacked anything like a proper food quality control system.
Food safety laws have been in place since the 1960s (most notably the Pure Food Ordinance of 1960), but the majority of food production and distribution networks have been informal for decades, beyond the state’s limited capacity to monitor and regulate beyond supply and pricing interventions.
All of this makes the food industry quite unregulated, which eventually leads to illnesses and deaths in the country. Every food item is contaminated, from raw vegetables and fruits to milk and milk products to fish, meat, and processed foods. All of these foods include ingredients that are extremely harmful to one’s health.
The Economic Cost of Unregulated Food Industry
In poor and middle-income economies, the impact of hazardous food results in annual output losses of roughly 95 billion dollars. In 2010, 33 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) were lost due to unsafe food.
Foodborne diseases, which are a leading cause of child mortality and morbidity in Pakistan, also contribute considerably to early mortality and low life expectancy. Aflatoxin, pesticide residues, heavy metal pollutants, and adulterants have been found in foods in excess of allowable limits across the country, according to surveys. Ingestion of food pollutants has been linked to a number of chronic disorders, including tumors and malignancies.
Quality Control Authority
As the processed food sector and food imports grew popular in the 1990s, the need for a quality control system became apparent, leading in the founding of the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) under the Ministry of Science and Technology in 1996. The authority was charged with establishing national standards for food goods and food grade materials (among other things), as well as consumer protection.
However, as with many other policy and regulatory frameworks in Pakistan, food control enforcement has remained another failed venture. The PSQCA was a federal organization with no administrative presence in provinces or districts. There was no formal system of inspections or monitoring in place, with the exception of periodic factory visits by district administration officials and provincial food departments (which continued to focus on food production and distribution).
18th Amendment And The Punjab Food Authority
Then followed the 18th constitutional amendment in 2010, which saw food regulation devolved to the provinces, with the provinces establishing their own food regulatory authorities as a result. The Punjab Food Authority (PFA) was created in 2011 by the Punjab Food Authority Act to “ensure the provision of safe and healthy food for human consumption” in Punjab.
However, none of these projects has proved to be successful. To accomplish all of this, Pakistan requires a strong food regulatory framework that prioritizes science over short-term economics and public health over profits.