A few years back, the videos of Bhutanese people encountering with adulterated food went viral on social media, however there was no official complaints filed to Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) nor was there a report filed with the Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA).
Adulteration is the process of adding unwanted substances to the food, with similar appearance and colour for making profits.
In 2017, as per the report from BAFRA, Thimphu dzongkhag office conducted a random qualitative testing of butter being sold at Centenary Farmers’ Market from July to September 2017 and some of the samples tested positive for the presence of Vanaspati.
Of the 30 butter samples tested, four were found to be positive. Three were from Haa and one from Bumthang. The adulterated butter was seized, destroyed and appropriate actions taken in accordance to the Food Act of Bhutan 2005.
According to the Food Act 2005 and its rules and regulations 2017, people involved in selling such adulterated foods shall be fined double the market value of the incriminating commodity.
Meanwhile, the Bhutanese talked with few of the vendors regarding their awareness on adulteration of cereals and pulses and other products.
A cereal and pulses vendor at CFM said that they have heard of different dyes and substances being used and also rice being colored to make it look red or mixed with old red rice. One technique is to mix white India rice along with red rice while milling it in the machine so that the color rubs off on it.
A vendor Aum Dema said that those who have brought rice and faced adulteration practices must have purchased from a vendor who bring rice and other cereals from middlemen.
“Such practices must have been carried out by the middlemen. The middleman might have brought it from its sources and then added color or mixed with other substances,” she said.
She added, “Such practice was there in the past, as those red rice usually came from Samtse, which were too red in color and the color goes off while it is washed.”
Though the cereal vendors are reluctant to share more information the practice of adulteration is apparent in they way the sell their wares with vendors competing with each other saying their brand of rice is the ‘real thing’ and also alleging that there are others which is mixed with cheaper rice,
Kinley Penjor, a resident of Thimphu said that adulteration of cereals and pulses are very common and the visual test is the only solution for this problem.
“I had thought food adulteration is a thing of the past. But it continues to trouble us. Few years ago, cabbage and green peas were often colored with green dyes and sold in the market. Once I brought red rice from the market and when I washed the rice the colour went off and even the rice wasn’t of a good quality,” he said.
He said, “None of us have the courage to raise our voice against it. We have accepted it as a daily norm.”
Another resident also said that there are so many varieties of honey available in the market, but due to its steep price, honey is commonly adulterated with sugar to increase the bottle quantity.
“The practice of fake sip, local butter and milk adulterated with banana or dalda and water has been here for a while yet there is no report collected on it,” he said.
In the meantime, the Chief for Office of Consumer Protection Jigme Dorji said that they did not receive any official complaints regarding the adulteration of foods till date.
“We did not receive any official complaints however we also track social media and recently we came across a picture of sip where the color of sip was bit dark. And we got the sample of the sip and our team is working with the BAFRA, where it has been sent for testing,” he said.
An Official from BAFRA “While going for inspection we have not encountered with such products which has been adulterated. There is neither complaint nor a report on it,” he said, adding that the officials are moving around and monitoring.
In 2017, BAFRA has issued a notification calling on the public to inform the nearest BAFRA office if suspicious food products are found.
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