Poison to People; Chromium in food chain
Published: December 14, 2014 7:30 pm
14 December 2014, Nirapad News: Mobile court conducted a drive, assisted by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on last Friday in the city’s Hazaribagh, country’s main tannery hub, again reminded millions of consumers, the dangers that they are exposed to all the time. The RAB members caught a clandestine unit, red-handed, engaged in the manufacture of fish and poultry feed using waste materials of nearby tanneries. The magistrate heading the court meted out punishment to two employees of the unit for their crime. There is nothing wrong if waste materials used in production of feed or anything were not harmful. But the tannery waste contains many chemicals, including chromium, that are highly toxic and potentially harmful to human health.
The problem concerning the manufacture of adulterated fish and poultry feed did not end with the punishment given to one Hazaribagh unit. There are many more such units in the same area. Following the Friday’s raid, the units would invariably go underground and resurface after a few days. Besides, the technique of producing similar feeds with tannery waste, allegedly, has been picked up by a good number of poultry unit and fish farm owners and they themselves are doing it at their own places. Just to save a few bucks on account of feeding the poultry birds and fish, a section of unscrupulous people has been taking recourse to such a dangerous and evil practice.
The tanning industries of Hazaribagh area of Dhaka city are processing some 220 metric tons of hide a day with an associated release of 600 – 1000 kg of solid waste for each ton of processed hide. At present, several large mills and many locals are involved in converting the solid wastes into protein-concentrate for mixing into poultry feed. Each large mill produces 200-250 tons of protein-concentrate per day.
Previously, large quantities of solid leather wastes were disposed of through landfills. This caused leaching out of chromium in the soil making it unfit for cultivation and other uses. Increased environmental restrictions and escalating landfill costs have encouraged the leather industry to develop cleaner technology by minimizing wastes generated and maximizing those reused. Hence, to reduce the landfill problem of chrome leather pieces, they are currently being used as either poultry feed or fertilizer. Previously, tannery owners had to spend around BDT 1,000 each time they cleaned the waste but now, they are earning a fortune by selling wastes. Every day the owners sell 1-5 metric tons of tannery waste to traders. It is found that an owner of a Hazaribagh feed factory pays BDT 5 to 15 lakh in advance to collect skin-cut waste per annum. After the collection of solid wastes, they boil the waste in big containers and dry it in the sun for five days. They are capable of supplying up to 200 kg of raw dried products to middlemen, who grind and sell those to fish and poultry feed factories. There are around 10 grinding mills in Hazaribagh area. A middleman sells around five metric tons of meat bone every day to various feed factories and retailers across the country. It is also reported that traders used to import a kilogram of meat bone at BDT 10 five years ago, which is now BDT 35 a kg. On the other hand, meat bone made of tannery waste only costs BDT 20 to 22 per kg. Moreover, compared to the imported protein, only half the amount of skin-cut meat bone is required to manufacture one kg of feed. Generally, one kg poultry feed uses 60% meat bone, 40% other ingredients like soya oil cake, ground rice and dry fis. Thus, almost all the feed factories prefer tannery waste-turned meat bone to imported protein. At present, there are around 70 big and medium and 300 small feed factories in the country.
Experts say the presence of chromium, a heavy metal, in poultry or fish feed should not be more than 30 ppm. But the feeds produced using tannery waste are found containing chromium as high as 5000 ppm. The figure itself is enough to raise serious concern immediately. The entry of chromium in the food chain leaves a long-lasting ill-effect on human health. A part of the metal remains deposited in the fish and poultry meat and the same is passed on to humans when the latter consume the same.
Consumers are worried but they are left with little option other than consuming the chemical-contaminated foods. They eat every food item, may it be a banana or a piece of vegetable, with suspicion. Courtesy of the media most people are familiar with the names of a few chemicals, including formalin and carbide. The name chromium is not widely known. But soon it will be. Notwithstanding the fact that the average longevity of the population has been on the rise, the number of people afflicted with serious diseases, namely, diabetes, cancer, kidney failures, liver cirrhosis etc., has gone up in recent years. Doctors and medical experts do blame the large-scale entry of a good number of harmful chemicals in the food chain responsible for the spread of these diseases.
The use of formalin in food is now on the decline, primarily because of strong media campaign and some official actions. But in the case of use of other harmful chemicals in food, the same is not true. The number of incidents involving a serious crime such as acid-throwing has declined because the offence is now punishable with death. The drive against food adulterators has been sporadic and the punishment meted out is not enough to create fear among the culprits involved in this nefarious act. The agency created in the recent past to protect consumers from the misdeeds of adulterators is also not visible. So, what is necessary at the moment is the launching of strong and decisive actions against those who are poisoning different foods including eggs.