Some three years back there was a debate around the use of brine solution on chicken that is sold in fast food retail stores across the country. At the time we requested the Ministry of Health, which is the only regulatory authority, to provide us with specifications on the amount of brine that can be applied on chicken and other food items such as beef.
There were no answers forthcoming from the ministry, except a brief statement that the companies using brine solution should do it with care.
This week, the Minister of Health, Dorcas Makgato stated that the some imported foods are responsible for the spread of non-communicable diseases. Our country imports more than 50% of food items from neighbouring countries, especially South Africa. Such imports include chicken, pork and vegetables among others, which are not subjected to intense scrutiny when they are crossed into the country and ultimately into our plates.
Many, if not all fast food retail stores originate from South Africa, their preferred destination for importing food items including chicken, and pork and even beef, which is in abundance in Botswana. It is against this backdrop that we call for strengthening of laws and establishment of Food Regulatory Authority or Commission that will be mandated with ensuring that all the food that is in circulation in Botswana is safe for consumption. The body can go for benchmarking exercises in developed countries such as in the European Union where public safety is given priority than anything else.
The body should set safe limits of ingredients in food items and drink beverages, and any chemical or colourant found in food items. We should always remember the China
The minister acknowledged that we have good policies but many of them need to be strengthened and harmonised and responsive to current and emerging issues. As matter of fact, the minister was too embarrassed to state that several agencies scattered across ministries mandated to protect the consumer are not effective.
These policies can only be enforced by an Authority that dedicates all its time to ensuring that the public is protected from unscrupulous traders and individuals who are bent on making quick cash at the expense of unsuspecting members of the public.
The Authority will also ensure that traders who erase expiry dates of canned foods are severely dealt with. We have long neglected public safety and the time to act is nay or else we will wake up when it is too late to reverse the damage.
The minister should take leadership in ensuring that this Authority is established before the end of the eleventh Parliament and that will be her legacy.
“Not responding is a response - we are equally responsible for what we don’t do.”
- Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals Food Safety