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Establishment of reference lab on the cards

BFSA member Rejaul Karim tells FE

JUBAIR HASAN | September 29, 2022 00:00:00

Rejaul Karim

Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) in a major move plans to set up a state-of-the-art reference laboratory facility to ensure quality food in the country where food adulteration remains a serious concern.

The laboratory will help address food testing-related complexities as it will be a globally accredited and certified one, BFSA Member (Food Consumption & Consumer Rights) Md. Rejaul Karim said in an exclusive interview with the Financial Express (FE).

He said there is no laboratory in the country that is globally certified or accredited. There are some lab facilities that have been using various technologies and methodologies. But coordination among them is non-existent. As a result, the reports produced by them, in many cases, vary.

He said testing is a controversial thing here. If the testing is done using old machinery or old methods or substandard reagents reports will vary.

"If the test is done from a lab in Old Dhaka, the report will be different. There should be a reference laboratory within the country. If anything changes in the global order, the reference laboratory will automatically adopt those within an hour. It is well fit in the current global context," he said.

Such a facility will play the role of an appellate authority. For example, if the customs authority is not satisfied with the quality of available testing report of a particular product and did not allow the products to pass through. The trader collects testing reports from other sources that do not convince the customs department. "They can come to the reference laboratory, which is the final appellate authority because the acceptability of the facility is so high that nobody will ask any questions. We should not forget that lingering test procedures lead to the rise of costs and affect the quality. No globally reputed companies will come to invest under the system," he mentioned.

"We are discussing with the Japanese government to install a reference facility here. It is not an easy task because it encompasses issues like physical lab, chemical lab, biochemical lab and allergic lab. It will take time but the process has already been started," he informed.

The problem is that there are not enough people who have enough knowledge about the whole thing. So, they have requested the Japanese side to provide them with the required knowhow.

When asked about the skilled manpower to manage the facility, Mr Karim, a joint secretary of the government, said they have also started the process of reshaping the human resource with appointing a consultant as the Japanese side wants to know about the human resource managing the facility.

Those who will be working in the food laboratory should be accredited by the accreditation board and also recognised or registered by the food safety authority in accordance with the global practice. "We want to do this."

They also planned to install a simple, not a detailed one lab facility at each district-level office so that officers there can at least detect problems if there are any in the products. "Gravity of the problems will be checked later. We're now piloting this project in 11 districts. We'll replicate it in other places once it is completed," he said.

He said the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority is an agency which is empowered to coordinate all the agencies engaged in the food sector.

Terming manpower shortage a hindrance for proper functioning of the BFSA, he said they don't have any food safety inspector, which is considered as the backbone of such activities but the sanitary inspectors under the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) are attached to them.

"But they are not physically, mentally and educationally fit to carry out the works in accordance with the existing activities under the food safety act. This is causing a serious problem," he said.

About the coordination among the agencies, he said there is a good law but coordination comes when there is a clear understanding of issues. "There is no clear understanding about the food safety related issues but things have started improving."

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