An official from the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) shows confiscated illegal herbal medicine in Medan, North Sumatra, on Feb. 4, 2015. (Antara Photo/Irsan Mulyadi)

Jakarta Governor Seeks Tough Stance Against Toxic Food

BY :DETI MEGA PURNAMASARI

FEBRUARY 13, 2015

Some students buy sausage in Tegal, Central Java, on Jan. 30, 2015. Parents are being encouraged to be aware of widespread circulation of foods that use hazardous materials such as borax, textile dyes and formaldehyde that are suspected to be the cause of cancer, diarrhea and intestinal hardening. (Antara Photo/Oky Lukmansyah)

Jakarta. Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama called on law enforcers to press harsher criminal charges against producers and distributors of foods and drugs laden with hazardous chemicals and preservatives, saying that they deserve to be jailed for attempted murder.

“All this time we have been prosecuting people because their products contain [dangerous] chemicals,” he said at City Hall on Thursday. “I plan to press charges against them for systematic attempted murder.”

Law enforcers typically charge sellers, producers and distributors linked to hazardous foods and drugs under the 2012 Food Law, which sees a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rp 10 billion ($781,600).

The addition of an attempted murder charge would incur an additional 10 years in prison for the perpetrator.

Basuki spoke after signing an agreement with the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) to curb dangerous foods and drugs.

“It is important to cooperate with the Jakarta [administration],” said BPOM chief Roy Sparingga. “[Jakarta] is the main hub for the distribution of illegal drugs and foods to and from other regions.”

The agreement would allow the BPOM to increase supervision over foods and drugs sold at city-owned traditional markets as well as educate small and medium business owners as part of the city’s empowerment program on BPOM certification and the dangers of certain chemicals.

“We need to form a [joint] team to examine the trade all the way to the source. We can’t keep going after the sellers,” Roy said.

Throughout last year, the BPOM seized more than Rp 33 billion worth of foods laden with hazardous chemicals including formaldehyde, used as a cheaper alternative to safer food preservatives.

The BPOM also confiscated Rp 27 billion worth of hazardous medicines and traditional concoctions, as well as Rp 32 billion of cosmetics laden with toxic chemicals such as mercury.

But health experts warned that these were only the tip of the iceberg.

The Health Ministry’s chief of public awareness, Lily S. Sulistyowati, said one way to combat hazardous foods was for parents to stop giving their children an allowance to buy snacks.

Lily pointed to a study in 2014 that found that some 15 percent of food sold in and around schools in Jakarta were either prepared in unhygienic conditions or were laden with dangerous preservatives such as formaldehyde and borax.

“Schools should also work together with the BPOM to conduct routine inspections, not just on school cafeterias but also vendors operating around schools,” she said.

“It’s best not to provide kids with an allowance for snacks, especially if they’re in the fourth grade or lower. They risk buying foods that aren’t safe. It’s best for parents to provide their kids with meals from home.”

Last week, 117 students from an elementary school in Tasikmalaya, West Java, suffered food poisoning after they reportedly ate tainted fried chicken.

Nineteen of them were hospitalized.

An official from the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) shows confiscated illegal herbal medicine in Medan, North Sumatra, on Feb. 4, 2015. (Antara Photo/Irsan Mulyadi)

In October, the BPOM raided two noodle factories in Bogor, south of Jakarta, that allegedly used formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, in their production process.

BPOM director for food product standardization Tetty Helfery Sihombing said the number of hazardous foods and drugs would likely increase this year as Indonesia enters the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ Economic Community free-trade agreement.

The BPOM, she said, would have to cope with the influx of products coming into the country, which would translate into more demand for food safety tests.

The agency is also planning stronger cooperation with its counterparts in other Asean countries.

“The most important thing is for [other agencies] to have the same perception,” she said, adding that food and drug regulations differed between countries.

The BPOM plans to cooperate with food producers’ associations to establish a center where people can receive information or file a complaint through its website, over the phone or via social media.

Meanwhile, Jakarta is planning to make all markets operated by city-owned firm PD Pasar Jaya free from hazardous foods and drugs.

Vendors at such markets will be subjected to a monthly inspection by city and BPOM officials to look for those selling products with hazardous levels of pesticides or preservatives.

Basuki said any vendors caught selling hazardous food could face heavy fines.

“If they are caught three times, we will mark them and they will not be allowed to operate anywhere in Jakarta,” he said.

The city earlier mulled certifying food vendors operating on Jakarta’s streets to ensure they met hygiene and food safety standards.

The government will this year conduct a trial run and mandate vendors at four locations — South Jakarta’s Melawai and Blok S and Central Jakarta’s Kebon Sirih and the National Monument park — to be certified.

“In the future all culinary centers in Jakarta will be subject to the same certification requirements,” Jakarta Health Agency chief Koesmedi Priharto.

Further Coverage

Editorial: We’re Sick of Tainted Food and Lax Laws

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