KATHMANDU, Jan 31: Most of the vegetable ghee and cooking oil producers and refinery mills, as well as dozens of food manufacturing companies, are located in Bara, but the district has not had a food inspector since a decade.
The post of food inspector at the District Administration Office was done away in 2008 in the course of staff readjustments and the local food products industry remains unmonitored. This has weakened the government's monitoring for ensuring quality in food production and protecting consumer health.
There are an estimated 300 such mills in the district, which is home to most of the popular food brand makers.
Out of the 20 districts in the Nepal Tarai, Bara is the only district without a food inspector. An inspector is brought in from neighboring Parsa or Makawanpur when needed. This lacuna in the monitoring of food products in the district has raised questions about the food regulating agencies, including the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (DFTQC).
Food technicians have to collect samples of each batch of food products from the mills and send these for inspection to the labs. The nearest lab is at the Regional Office of Food Technology and Quality Control at Hetauda.
Consumer activists accuse the government authorities of being under the sway of food companies and therefore not appointing a food inspector in Bara district.
The authorities admit that food inspection in the district is weak due to lack of manpower.
Sanjeev Kumar Karn, director general of DFTQC, said, “The post of food inspector automatically fell vacant after the erstwhile inspector was promoted as part of a staff adjustment provision endorsed in 2008.” Karn admitted that the absence of a food inspector has affected the monitoring and spoke of plans to create a post under the new federal structuring. Karna said the Ministry of General Administration has not set up a new post despite repeated pleas.
Raj Kumar Rijal, chief of the DFTQC regional office in Hetauda, said he has a limited number of staffs at his disposal and only sends someone to Bara in case of urgency. “The food inspectors may not be able to collect all the samples of production batches but at least a few samples are collected and regularly tested,” added Rijal.
Ajaya Adhikari, central joint-secretary of the Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights Nepal, said the fact that industries including most producers of food products, vegetable ghee and cooking oil have not been monitored for such a long time makes it clear that the authorities are under undue influence.
“The manufacturers are themselves sending their samples to the labs but this is not the way to regulate food products. They [authorities] must take samples of each batch themselves and get them tested,” said Adhikari adding that the inspector's job is to visit the factories and collect samples of each batch of manufactured goods and allow them into the market only after the lab reports are in.
Besides several manufacturers of rice, flour, noodles and other food products, there are about a dozen vegetable ghee and cooking oil companies operating in Bara district.