The GA-FDD must be empowered to function effectively

The revelation earlier this week that quantities of Colgate toothpaste that expired eighteen years ago are still sold on the local market and can only be obtained through the Government Analyst – Department of Food and Drugs (GA-FDD) this scandalous circumstance was brought to the attention of a consumer complaint, a manifestation of how ineffective our consumer protection mechanisms are, how completely disregarded the related laws are and how low some ‘business houses’ can become involved in their attempt to ‘turn a dollar.’

The other point that should be made here of course is that, over time, stories have been told about business houses securing access to secret official aid as expired goods have been imported into the country and distributed for consumers who are not, in fact, in many cases, completely unaware but consider themselves ‘lucky’ to have access to different types of goods for what are commonly referred to as ‘dump’ prices, what whatever the associated health risks. As is not at all unfair to say that the presence of expired goods on the local market is not, in all cases, a function of clandestine import but of activities that are ‘penalized’ somewhere along the chain of authority .

Then there’s the question of distributing these expired products from vendors who couldn’t care less about the dangers associated with distributing expired consumer goods, including groceries. One might add, of course, that this is not an issue that the various Business Support Organizations (BSOs) are known to have set their faces against, so that they, by their indifference, provide a measure of comfort to the criminals.

Finally, the regulatory agency, the GA-FDD, is the entity responsible for overseeing compliance with the laws governing expiration dates and related matters. In fact, the GA-FDD, with its humble monitoring capability and what are allegedly aggressive official push-ups by those who would provide for law-breaking, is find himself swimming against the tide. In fact, it is a huge embarrassment to the GA-FDD that it finds itself, far too often, finding out these faults late and then only by accidental discovery and reporting by customers.

Contextually, to bury our heads in the sand is to deny that the government has to ‘carry the can’ for these wrongs. Indeed, the circumstances in which the GA-FDD must operate – poor accommodation, inadequate staff and hopelessly under-performing – speak for themselves. In fact, there is, as far as we know, no verifiable piece of evidence that authorities are being suitably captured of the broader strategic importance of the GA-FDD and the need to equip the entity suitably to deliver its functions efficiently. Moreover, there have been reports of cases where the ability of the GA-FDD to discharge its functions is determinedly undermined by deliberate ‘upwards’ interventions in matters of how the agency should go about doing her job.

This is not the first occasion that the GA-FDD, of late, has had to bring to the public’s attention cases such as the one that exists from the expired toothpaste. The Agency would, of course, hardly be aware of the extent to which consumers’ use of toothpaste that should have been off the shelves nearly two decades ago could have had to suffer health-related consequences.

Needless to say, it is highly likely that other consumer items with a long-lived shelf life could be trotted out and offered to consumers, as Christmas approaches. What’s more, if a precedent is anything to go by, the example of the long-expired toothpaste is likely to come and go, making room for disclosures of other such crimes in the fulness of time.

Only if the WIND is allowed to act properly should things change, if the shadow bases that allow for the importation of expired goods are suspended and if the authorities, as a matter of policy, takes consumer protection much more seriously. than they do at this time. One might add that our Business Support Organizations, too, have a role to play in supporting the GA-FDD to push back against events like this toothpaste expiration date.