07 September 2014

The Food Act has gone stale

 Thanks to social media and the widespread use of mobile devices which can take pictures we’ve seen quick dissemination of horror stories in various eateries.  In time, hopefully, those who operate and work in restaurants big and small, well-known and nondescript, those in Colombo as well as those far away from the capital, will get their act together or else be forced to close down shop. 

Consumer awareness coupled with a sense of social responsibility that prompts quick action of the ‘get the word out’ no doubt helps, but this is not to say that a) those responsible for ensuring that the consumer is protected do nothing, and b) archaic laws are not revisited and overhauled.  

Dr Ruwan Wijayamuni, the Chief Medical Officer of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) put it in very clear terms.  He had apparently taken a food outlet to court last week and the court had set a date in April 2015 to hear the case.     By that time, he says, the management could have changed hands, the owners may not turn up or shift operations elsewhere. 

The law, then, stands in the way.  Dr Wijayamuni used the words ‘tedious’ and ‘frustrating’ to describe the state of affairs.  He calls for an overhaul of the Food Act.

He is correct. There’s only so much that his office can accomplish in the absence of robust legislation which makes for effective enforcement of regulations.  Indeed, overhauling is not a ‘need’ that is limited to the Food Act.  Despite the many raids carried out by the Consumer Affairs Authority in recent times, it is clear that the consumer is hardly protected from the machinations that seek to hoodwink, cheat and even poison them. 

The market is chock-full of expired drugs, cosmetics and food items.  The service sector is as bad.  False promises, exaggerated claims, non-delivery and little recourse to redress paint a poor picture of how things stand.  It works for politicians, political parties and election manifestos too and there lies the irony for it is these very people who are entrusted with the responsibility of correcting things.    

The media does its part.  ‘Does its part’ to sustain this sorry state of affairs, that is.  Sensationalism sells, this is known, but when it comes to corporate cheats there’s hardly a murmur from the media (in general), forget going to town with banner headlines, follow-up stories, naming and shaming. 

Siripala is convicted of murdering Ranmenika and it’s a big story.  The lives of the murderer and the murdered will be laid out, personality quirks identified and analyzed and the fate of secondary victims (close family members for example) will be featured.  If there’s medical negligence leading to death, then we would hear about ‘a prominent private hospital in such and such a place’.  No names. No shame.  Unless of course a doctor attached to a state medical facility, overworked and underpaid, errs.  That’s ‘better news’. 

This is where social media emerges as a far more reliable ally of the consumer.  It is a good thing.  Necessary of course, but certainly not sufficient.  In the long run, what matters is robust laws and effective enforcing mechanism.  And of course appropriate follow up (read ‘punishment that hurts’). 

It is high time that the relevant authorities including those in Parliament  listen to the likes of Dr Ruwan Wijayamuni and take appropriate action on behalf of the consumers.  The Food Act is a good place to start. 



sajic said...

You are absolutely right. More and More and more horrow stories are emerging about food outlets which are now clogging our streets. The stories apply to big-name hotels as well. Very little action is taken.