A main mission of the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is to ensure that food is of good quality and safe for consumption. Its vision is to safeguard the farming system and ensure safe food through science-based regulatory approaches.
To ensure food safety, several activities are seen to be carried out to enhance good hygienic and manufacturing practices and vigilance along the food supply chain by BAFRA, especially in the urban areas.
However, in some remote parts of the country with scattered settlements and places with no feeder roads, the number of shops, though in a few numbers, is found selling date expired goods, which affects innocent customers leading to health issues.
Ura in Bumthang, located 50 km away from the highway, has around two grocery shops and a restaurant with a bar. A resident in Ura, Wangchuk, came across commodities which are out dated for two consecutive times. He said, “Perhaps it can be that due to less number of buyers that the outdated products are sold, and as per my knowledge, I haven’t heard of the food checkup being done out here.”
A resident in a remote part of Balaygang in Dagana, Kinley Wangdi,27, said, “My mom bought 2 kg of flour from the nearby shop in our region. I forgot to check the expiry date until I opened to make dough out of that when I noticed that the flour is unusual, just to find out that the expiry date was 4 months ago.”
“This isn’t the first such incident, I was in Gasa for one and half years where I came across such outdated items being sold at the rate higher than the Maximum Retail Price (MRP),” he added.
Director General of BAFRA Namgay Wangchuk, said, “Some shopkeepers purchase goods at very cheap price, which are about to be outdated sold by the dealers at double low price, so the some shopkeepers purchase those goods just to earn more money, not thinking about the consequences, because money making is more important than health of the customers for some shopkeepers.”
BAFRA carefully dumps all date expired food items in biological pit which is cemented on top to avoid health hazards.
“It pains us to seize the outdated goods from the shops with which some people make living out of that, but we can’t compromise the health of the hundreds and thousands of people. Because our job is to ensure that the food we eat are safe and acceptable,” BAFRA Director General said.
He cautioned shopkeepers not to make bad investment in purchasing excess number of goods without estimating the number of consumers and types of goods to be sold according to the nature of place.
He also said that food inspection is done not only in confined area of cities, but also in every possible remote area throughout the country.
He said, “We have branch offices in each dzongkhags and also in 6 dungkhags with three staffs for each dzongkhags for food, agriculture and livestock regulations.”
According to BAFRA, it faces challenges in regulating food safety in rural area due to a shortage of regulatory staff, distance and weather. “We only have around two to three staffs in a dzongkhag to do the inspection for whole district,” adding that limited financial resource is the main cause to recruit more number of staff.
BAFRA takes about a week or more to visit some remote part of the country for the inspection of one or two number of shops. Therefore, to minimize wastage of time and resources, BAFRA mainly emphasize on 5 major entry points in Samdrupjongkhar, Phuntsholing, Samtse, Gelephu and Paro International Airport as an effective means to monitor food safety.
BAFRA also creates awareness programs based on risk factors, population center and accessibility, which are disseminated through various forms of media, and through local events held in gewog and district level where many people gather. Educating students about food risks is also seen as an effective way to disseminate the information to parents, neighbours and future generations.
“We have also conducted a street theatre programs in collaboration with World Food Programme (WFP), conducted food handling training, and we are planning many more to create awareness to the people, at large, including all remote and urban areas,” the Director General added.
He said that the main emphasis for food regulatory is done based on risk analysis depending on the type of food, like vegetable shop, meat shop, bakery and pastry shops and ready-to-eat food. He added, “Regular checkup needs to be done for these types of food because it’s very risky.”
BAFRA also keeps extra tab on food business establishment, especially those with a record and reputation of unhealthy management of food.
“The food regulatory is done on daily basis in some risky area, frequently in less risky areas depending on food risk types, and sometimes on adhoc basis”.
The shopkeepers, food manufactures, and restaurateurs failing to follow the BAFRA rules and regulation are warned first, followed by fines imposition during the second and third warnings. There is no fourth time fine as the case is reported to trade ministry and the trade license is seized.