Junk food and contaminated water State of Consumer Law and Practice in Sri Lanka and proposed changes

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By 2017-09-12

BY SARATH WIJESINGHE

Health is wealth for a nation or an individual as wealth or material benefit will be of no use to a sick body full of ailments. Sri Lanka once a healthy nation enjoying long life, self-sufficiency in food and other needs in the village full of peace and stability is now invaded by drug addicts, sex maniacs, and a new generation indifferent to religion, culture, and good behaviour, based on traditional breeding of historical

traditional and religious values adored and respected by the world. Deforestation, clearing of jungles and partitioning /destruction of lands,environmental disasters such as sand mining have accelerated the man-made self-destruction.

Sri Lanka has become the "Narcotic and Drug Hub of Asia" with shiploads of Hashish imported with sugar regularly and what happens to the stocks taken into custody is not known. We are a nation with highest consumption of liquor which is freely available officially and unofficially as a part of the food habit. We have become a sick nation due to wrong food and consumption habits with no control or supervision of regulatory and statutory bodies. Alcohol addiction is high with 40% with Rs 143 billion spent on smoking and liquor consumption as a result. 40% school children are addicted to smoking and junk food. Today the drug addiction amongst school children is high resulting in rape, disappearances and other disasters to innocent children despite many authorities, ministries, ministers and organizations to protect them. Tony Blair then Prime Minister increased the quality of food to students by 100% and in some Boroughs in England famous Junk food chains are prohibited to function in the vicinity of schools. Water and liquid drinks provided are of high standards.

"Quality of food, health hazards in food and consumer items"

Future of a Nation depends on food and nutrition provided for the citizen especially children – the future generation. It is a known fact that most food items we eat are poisonous, downgraded, substandard and mostly not fit for human consummation - yet we are forced to consume it knowingly or unknowingly, which is applicable to dry as well as cooked and other consumer items, especially junk food available in fast-food-chains as well as small restaurants and other outlets. Fast food and cola chains in the west have invaded us targeting the school children and the young adopting various methods and strategies to attract - using sports, competition, gifts and fierce advertising campaigns among the rich multinational companies successfully minting money of the very citizens who consume them not realizing that they are subject to slow poisoning, that increases obesity and diabetics among the citizens. Sri Lankan adults being subject to diabetes and children subject to obesity due to wrong food habits.

"Ajinomoto Kabushiki-Gaisha" (MSG) Monosodium Glutamate (a weed killer of Japanese origin) is used in most food chains including small restaurants and so called reputed food outlets in preparation of food which is hazardous and harmful to the human body. Due to excessive use of chemicals, powerful fertilizers and pesticides, the soil and the ground water is contaminated, as poisonous materials flow downstream spreading pollution. Excessive use of poisonous fertilizer on vegetation renders it unsafe for consumption, as these vegetables and fruits, are treated with highly toxic and powerful chemicals to help preserve them over longer periods of time. Banana is treated with carbide a practice which originated in "Amibilipitiya" before being transported to Colombo for distribution countrywide. Many food, drinks, consumer items and prepared/junk food are fully or completely adulterated and unfit for human consumption and goes on unchecked by the Consumer Affairs Authority – the main regulator which is the powerful and ultimate authority. When listed, it would run into thousands including the freely imported cheap items from the west as well as India and China. Our country has become the dumping ground of many developed and developing countries, when many other countries take drastic health and preventive security measures for the protection of their citizens from dumping and waste. Careful look at any artificially treated vegetable or fruits can be distinguished with the unusual dry appearance of the product with no fresh appearance. Imported fruits are worse. An imported apple will be fresh even in the hottest weather in Sri Lanka for months with the application or injunctions of chemicals to the fruit. It is unfortunate that we import fruits from Australia, Switzerland and Europe when we have plenty of tasty and nourishing fruits here in abundance. Even fresh "Gotukola" found in the market is subject to this menace due to over consumption/application of unregulated poisonous and pesticides and fertilizer used with no control or checks and balances. It is the responsibility of the CAA the main regulator and other regulators to use the powers given under the act No. 9 of 2003 with regulations spending millions for the maintenance of the staff and the machinery countrywide unused in the right direction.

Contaminated water and drinks, and junk food in abundance

There is no guarantee that water we consume provided by State, in bottled form, and well water is safe to drink with no poisonous and foreign bodies. Consumer Affairs Authority, Bureau of Standards, Health Department or Local Authorities and Public Health Officers have no plans or mandate to implement the existing legislature on food water and consumer items. Water bottles cannot be relied upon although the consumer blindly consumes it in the market with no health or purification protective tests or guidelines followed.

Situation in Sri Lanka has worsened due to frequent and severe droughts and floods mainly due to manmade disasters such as sand mining deforestation and similar environment disasters due to the inefficiency of the Ministry of Environment. We are fortunate to be with abundance of water with a network of rivers and water resources but unfortunately not managed properly, wasting 40% of tap water due to bad planning, when Israel, with no water 70 years ago is now self-sufficient in water by desalinating water from the sea and selling the excess to neighbours.

Our traditional system of price control was completely overhauled by the introduction of the free economy and subsequently introduction of the present consumer Authority Act No. 9 of 2003 which has replaced the consumer protection act fair trading commission and control of prices such implemented policies of the government of closed and planned economy today the only piece of legislation in this area is the CAA which the consumer is protected mainly by regulatory powers in part two of the Act which has power of indirect price control or certain items only by enforcing S/18 of the Act. CAA is a mixture of USA Australian Canadian ad Traditional UK Sri Lanka systems with lot of hopes but unsuccessful as it lacks teeth for implementation. California CAA regulates 2.3 million professionals successfully, EU regulates EU countries including UK. This gives food for thought for us. It states that the policy of the government is to provide better protection to the consumers through regulations of trade and prices of goods as services and to protect trader and manufacturer against unfair and restrictive trade practices but CAA is helpless before multinational companies stand against regulatory powers decisions consumer organisations.

Legal Basis and Solutions to protect the Consumer

Consumer protection law or Consumer Law is considering as area that regulates private law relationships between individual consumers and business that sell these goods and services within law the notions of consumer is primarily used in relation to consumer protection laws and definition of consumers this offer restricted to living persons or business and excludes commercial users. Consumer protection is a form of government regulations which protects the interest of consumer. Consumer under CAA act is defined as actual or potential user of any goods or services made available for consideration by any trader or manufacturer.

This gives a broader meaning to include all citizens as consumers as even a person who intends to purchase of a consumer item or services is considered consumer by definition. Government may require business to disclose detailed information about products particularly in areas where safety or public health is an issue such as food. Consumer protection linked to consumer rights and consumer organizations.

Citizen should be organized as in other parts of the world as a pressure group and a guiding force as specified and required by the CAA. The consumer should be guided and educated on eating/ buying habits with training/guidance when to buy, where to buy and what to buy and how to buy, as an alert consumer armed with knowledge organizations power and skills to direct and work together with other groups in this system to promote friendly relations with the parties concerned and maintain the trade practices and standards of consumerism. Legal cover to protect the consumer is available in the forms of legislature, regulations, and the network of state officers performing their civic duties as required, including the main regulator Consumer Affairs Authority, Other Regulatory bodies such as the Public Utilities Commission, Telephone Regulatory Commission, Ministry of Health, Local Authorities and the offices attached including Public Health Officers.

Way forward

Our ultimate goal should to protect the consumer to provide with quality consumer items and services of required standard while maintaining the goodwill and equilibrium with the other players namely the State, Industrialist, Trader and the Consumer. We need and alert educated and organized consumer and a "Just Trader" as trader can be just while trading an honest profession when the State acts as fair and impartial Umpire. CAA which is inactive and inert should make use the powers given and a qualified leader should be appointed devoid of politics appointed by the Constitutional Council and not a political appointee of the Minister.

{The writer Sarath Wijesinghe is a (Solicitor/Attorney-at-Law, former Chairman Consumer Affairs Authority and former Ambassador to UAE and Israel) and takes full responsibility for the contents and could be contacted on sarath [email protected]}

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