Is it safe?

Today every European and some Asians are asking themselves: How safe is the food we eat?

By Mario
Published: Thursday 15 July 1999

Jean luc dehaene , the prime minister of Belgium, was Europe's longest serving premier. A few days ago, he had to resign following a global panic over the quality of Belgian dairy products. Three years after the mad cow disease crisis, Europe is in the thick of another food safety scare.

As a result, international trade stands crippled, public health has been endangered and there is a hue and cry against banning certain food products even in countries as far off as Malaysia and Japan. The agricultural sector in Belgium will definitely suffer. All this is a glaring example that the food safety measures and regulations are in a shambles in the European Union ( eu ). There is no international mechanism to implement common standards across the eu . Instead, eu member states insist upon retaining responsibility for common standards set in Brussels. National enforcement, however, is poorly coordinated, as revealed by the present scenario.

A dioxin is a chemical that disrupts normal body functions as it mimics certain hormones. It is also called 'environmental oestrogen'. It disrupts the functioning of the reproductive system and impairs growth in humans and animals. It is also one of the most potent carcinogens known.

Belgium took months to alert the public and the European Commission to the presence of dioxin in animal feed. Obviously, the quality of feed was improperly monitored for months -- laxity that amounts to recklessness on the part of the bureaucracy. Of course, heads will role in Belgium for this.

It is time for a fresh approach. The eu needs a new food safety agency with power to enforce quality across national borders. Member countries may not be willing to let government officials of another state interfere in what they might consider a national affair. Maybe it is time to consider setting up a transnational non-governmental food quality inspection police. This will definitely help enforce more rigorous standards for a very simple reason. People are concerned about the quality of what they eat. They will try to ensure they get the best. The scare reveals a greater threat for developing countries like India. If dioxins can be traced in dairy products in countries that are supposed to monitor standards scrupulously, what would be the scenario in India. Indians do not have a clue about the poisons that they eat in their daily meals.

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