By M. Shahid
LAHORE: A group of people is seen outside Daata Milk Shop located in Dharampura area at Allama Iqbal Road in Lahore Cantt. Its early morning of January 27 and they are here to buy milk and yogurt for a routine weekend breakfast when a vehicle stops in front of the shop.
Six young men and a female, wearing white coats, come out from the vehicle and enter the shop. They start checking big vessels as well as steel dishes carrying milk, yogurt, concentrated milk (khoya) and burfi (sweet).
Initially, some of the buyers get panic at what is going on but soon they realize that it is a routine thing as they almost daily see on TV such vehicles and persons inspecting shops, outlets and restaurants, etc. The manager of the shop also knows about them. It’s a team of Punjab Food Authority (PFA) which has raided to inspect the milk shop whether its products including milk, yogurt, burfi and khoya are prepared under tight hygienic condition or otherwise.
According to some estimates, Lahore, provincial metropolis of the largest and most populous province of Pakistan, with a population of over 11.1 million, requires around 1.2 million to 1.3 million liters of milk on a daily basis. Around 1000 liters of milk and around 500 liters of yogurt are sold at this shop alone. Milk, a basic need of every house, has become a one of the major profit-generated trade these days. Majority of the milk needs of Lahore is fulfilled through the production of peri-urban and nearby districts.
There are 32 chemicals being used for milk adulteration in Pakistan but the PFA team equipped with a kit, prepared by a local university, can test at least 18 of these chemicals. This inspection by PFA is one among many they daily conduct across Punjab to check meat, dairy food products, vegetables and clean water.
At the Daata Milk shop, after the on-spot analysis, the PFA team finds milk in perfect hygienic condition as they don’t find any adulteration in the milk. However, the team ignores testing yogurt, burfi and khoa prepared at the shop, but that’s not it. Stagnant water inside the shop, dirty floors, use of wooden sticks for yogurt steel dishes; catch the eye of the inspectors.
The team also finds seven members of the staff at the shop without covering their heads with caps as well as without covering their hands with gloves. A fine of Rs 15, 000 for unhygienic condition and for not following the due procedure would now need to be paid or Daata Milk Shop would be sealed.
The PFA has been empowered to ensure provision of basic needs as per required hygienic requirements to the customers.
Talking to Data Stories, Director General Punjab Food Authority Noor ul Amin Mengal says the Authority has nearly 2,000 food safety officials comprising various teams including food safety teams, dairy safety teams, meat safety teams and water safety teams. As dairy, water and meat sectors are important they are in major focus of PFA.
About the new initiatives, the DG PFA says they are going to launch PFA consultancy service in every sector where they would give advice to any investor before the launch of his/her project about food safety measures. Through this service, all the issues would be addressed issues which might he/she has to face later on. Now people are aware that there is professional entity and professional institution which keeps an eye on the business, directly related to their health.
We have great support from Chief Minister Punjab, other government departments, Police, members of civil society, media and courts due to which we are succeeding in this difficult task. The CM, he adds, never intervened in our business rather he always supported us and always appreciated our work.
“Purpose of the PFA is not to destroy the businesses of people but we are for improvements through plugging the gaps. We have such problems because there was no institute like PFA in the past to deal with issues in hand”, he clarified.
About punishments of PFA, the DG says highest punishments for the violators are cancellation of their license. We don’t go for cancellation very often as it’s a bit harsh, he clarifies. We exhaust all options including a seven-step formula which include probation notice, fine, emergency probation notice, sealing, second time sealing, third time sealing and fourth time cancellation.
About working of the PFA, he says the Authority has 10 directorates including public awareness, IT, training, technical, operations have three, vigilance, admin, finance and coordination. He says all the directorates are being headed by federal officers.
After every six months, the PFA takes samples to test whether any improvement is made or not about a certain item against whom some actions are taken. Initially, PFA started its functions from Lahore but since 14th August 2017, we are operational across entire Punjab. “Sometimes we have to face tremendous pressures from various quarters including international governments as well”, he shared.
The PFA DG confirmed that there is a lot of resistance from powerful quarters and he faced threats as well but he is continuing with this operation with the full support of the chief minister of Punjab, Shehbaz Sharif. There have been repeated attempts to get him transferred from the province but Sharif has backed him fully.
President of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad (PKI) Khalid Khokhar, – an organization working for farmers’ rights – fully supports the actions of Punjab Food Authority saying he doesn’t own such farmers which are involved in sowing poisoning foods and vegetables. “Serving poisonous foods meant risking the lives of generations after generations and such farmers should be handed strict punishments,” he adds.
However, the Lahore Restaurant Association (LRA) has a different point of view. LRA president Kamran Sheikh terms actions of PFA as stunts only saying the PFA started its work in the beginning without any agenda due to which 25 to 40 per cent of the food industry suffered badly. “It (PFA) tried to solve the matters of seventy years within hours which is not possible in a country like ours,” he says, adding, “The Authority started actions like shooting at first sight and this unwise approach added to the miseries of the people running the business.” The PFA staff isn’t trained. None of them is trained, the LRA president asserts and adds the DG of the PFA is a positive man but he too lacks professional experience.
The LRA president further says the approach of PFA is negative. How we can think good about the PFA when its target is to challan us like a police. The PFA don’t have no proper equipment to check eateries and food items, etc.
Mr Kamran says, LRA is ready to even train and teach practical things to PFA staffers. We asked them to give their people and we will train them. Currently, he argues, the Authority is learning through its mistakes only.
Back at the Daata Milk-Shop, owner Muhammad Asim Shah says it was early in the morning and staff was about to clean the floors and dishes when the PFA team conducted the raid. He informs the PFA imposed fine of Rs 12, 000 a few months back and since then they have improved in milk quality a lot.
Dr Ashraf Nizami, President of Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) says skin, cancer, heart and stomach related diseases are common due to water and food contamination. He says the PMA appreciates the actions of PFA and it should continue doing more on the issue.
Referring to a study conducted a few years back by some physicians in North Lahore, Dr Nizami says the study found that after improvement of clean water the number of diseases decreased a lot.