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Countering fast food health effects!

The recent shocking MC Donald’s story on meat import may seem scandalous but my family underwent a frightful experience on Eid . My nephew and nieces who came from UAE to spend this festive occasion wished to go and play at Sinbad. These 3 – 5 years old kids got hungry after playing and wanted to have McDonalds “Happy Meal”. Their wish was granted and the next day they were to fly back to UAE and then to Turkey the following night. The kids excitedly consumed their happy meal but suffered severe food poisoning the very next morning. They had abdominal cramps with diarrhea and vomiting and slight fever, felt lethargic and sluggish hence wanted to stay in bed. They got hospitalized and it’s been a week but they are still running down with fever and diarrhea, though they are receiving proper treatment and medications. At first we thought it might be simple infection because people coming from abroad and especially kids are non-immune to the environmental conditions here and frequently contract stomach upsets until today we came across this news of expiry meat import. I may not be able to prove my case against McDonald’s in any legal manner but we have learned our lesson and would avoid it religiously.

After reading the story, I goggled similar stories on McDonald’s and was surprised to find out it isn’t the first time it has happened here. Many infection outbreaks have resulted in food poisoning across the globe and McDonald’s have been suspected and implicated in temporary shut down of their businesses.  Health and life are taken worthless and there is no check balance system in our country. Poor kids went through great pain just to enjoy their happy meal and to play with their toys. There is huge health and financial loss involved but no one is liable and there is no claim for reimbursements of doctor and hospital bills even if found guilty of charge!

Question arises relating to what rights do we have as consumers if the food we buy makes us sick?  Internationally there is consumer protection right which gives consumers the right to expect high quality of goods to be sold in return for the value of money they pay. The products sold won’t cause any harm and eventually the supplier and manufacturer would be held responsible. Sadly, it’s been more than two years that the government has not been able to establish National Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health Regulatory Authority whose objective would be to take safety measures on the import and export of the food, animal health and plant health. There are no microbiological and chemical labs accredited internationally to comply with the food safety and quality standards. There is zero inspection and guidelines on hygiene practice or national campaigns. The National Food Safety, Animal and Plant Health Regulatory Authority Bill was passed in 2012 but no institutional steps have been taken by the government. Among numerous other issues, Pakistan is facing a lot of health and safety challenges due to lack of regulatory authority and compliance on the food sector which is eventually impacting our current health status and future generations too. Besides, increase in burden of diseases, cost of health and medical treatment is out of pocket for the middle and lower class population.

There should be an integrated body which should be responsible for official control nationally on the food safety, animal and plant health. Strict vigilance is required at provincial and federal levels to be certain that the food we are buying in raw and cooked form is of standard quality. The regulatory must be accountable on the import and export, provincial coordination and inter provincial trade.

As health professionals, we should also have a critical role to play in compelling fast food industry to change its harmful practices. Jointly, we should call an end to child focused marketing as these shape children eating habits. We are responsible to play a vital role in creating healthy environment and educate parents so they can make healthy choice for their kids. The toy giveaways should be discontinued as it serves as an attraction to the kids and health and safety should be made our top priority.

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