Conscious consumption


As Pakistan gets the most awaited well-planned Eid gift in the shape of a staff-level agreement with the IMF, it is high time we shifted our focus on the much-needed economic reforms before the begging bowl is emptied again.

Since the last few decades we have been hearing that Pakistan has huge potential that needs to be tapped or unleashed — from the youth population bulge and IT reforms to agriculture and livestock, we can start minting dollars faster than ever.

Investing in young people will take time to bear fruits. And it is a long-term yet sustainable growth model and it should be initiated as soon as possible. Meanwhile, we must start intelligent investments in corporate farming and livestock exports with the collaboration of the private sector.

Therefore, the food sector should be made part of the economic reforms agenda; food exports is actually a low-hanging fruit for an agricultural economy like Pakistan. If it is not proactively addressed then exports aside, we shall have to deal with uncontrollable food security issues coupled with inflation as well.

While the world and our country have already been sensitized about food security to some extent due to recent floods and the ongoing climatic crises, we, as a country, should also focus towards food safety issues. The way our hospitals are stuffed with patients, it explains how foodborne diseases have been adding to the burden on hospitals and the national exchequer at the same time.

While we were busy building hospitals in the country, we ignored the root causes of shortage of beds in hospitals. A considerable percentage of heart and cancer patients admitted in hospitals link their illnesses with food-borne diseases caused by unhygienic and adulterated food. As CM of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif conducted a need assessment for cancer, heart, liver and kidney hospitals in Punjab. Consequently, he formed a special group to probe the reason behind the spread of these diseases in 2010.

The group concluded that food-borne diseases are contributing towards the healthcare burden, and therefore, the then chief minister established the Punjab Food Authority (PFA). It was like putting the government’s finger on the pulse, and it has been a success story.

From field operations to strategic interventions, the PFA has achieved a lot so far. One such intervention includes the establishment of a dedicated directorate of used cooking oil, which prevents the entry of used cooking oil into the food business. Large fast food chains in Punjab sell their used cooking oil which is then used to produce biodiesel. However, some nefarious elements filter this used cooking oil and sell it to smaller food business operators in the market and even to domestic consumers.

Heating oil several times for frying makes it cancerous; trans-fatty acids, rancidity, oxidation and peroxide value in such oil increases to the extent that it causes fatal diseases and works as a slow poison. The PFA with its dedicated wing channelizes this used cooking oil towards licensed biodiesel producers, so these middlemen could be barred from selling the used cooking oil to food industry. This initiative alone has so much potential that multinationals including Total Parco and others have taken keen

interest in procuring this used cooking oil.

Tapping this segment will ease the burden on import bill and simultaneously save people from the hazards of cooking in used oil. Fortunately, the PFA is vigilantly pursuing the cause. We, as responsible citizens, also need to fix our habits. For instance, an average Pakistani consumes over 24 litres of cooking oil every year and that is 5.0 litres more than what Indians consume every year. We need to have a cut on oil consumption as a consumer for our own sake.

If we do not do so, we have our government which can take loans and continue building hospitals and we have doctors who can continue operating on us and try fixing our illnesses as much as possible but this is obviously a majority of us will not want.

Food safety begins at home and consumers should work in unison with their respective food agencies. It is being dealt at the provincial level in Punjab, however, there should be a national action plan on food safety.

The writer is a freelance journalist. He has also served as media adviser to the World Bank and Unicef-funded healthcare and tourism related projects in Punjab. He tweets @EAAgop


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