Consume at your own peril!

Just because something is ‘easy to cook, good to eat’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy and safe. The perfect example is that of Nestle India’s Maggi noodles, which got embroiled in controversy recently following test results that confirmed the noodles contained added Monosodium Glutamate and excess of lead.

In India, the company was asked to withdraw and recall all the noodles from the market. Accordingly, these yellow packets, one of the most loved instant noodle brands in Bhutan, have also disappeared from the shelves of most shops in the country after Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority imposed a temporary ban on Maggi on June 6 this year.

An Indian shopkeeper arranges packets of Nestle 'Maggi' instant noodles from the shelves in his shop in Siliguri on June 5, 2015. India's food safety regulator on June 5 banned the sale and production of Nestle's Maggi instant noodles over a health scare after tests found they contained excessive lead levels. AFP PHOTO/Diptendu DUTTA

While the maggi controversy has abated for now, it has, however, highlighted safety of other instant noodles and processed foods in the market. It’s good that other brands have come under the scanner too. The question is what about other instant noodles flooding the market? Are they safe? Have tests been done? Or are we waiting that some other countries do the test and take action first, and then we follow accordingly as it has been happening in most instances?

It has, therefore, become apparent that we question ourselves whether it’s safe what we consume. We will today find a myriad of other instant noodles, processed and junk foods from so many countries, whose names we even don’t know of. How safe are they? For some products, forget the ingredient composition on the label, we even cannot read its actual price, manufacturing and expiry dates. In such a situation, it’s the shop owners who charge prices on their own whims. It’s like no one is complaining, no one is asking, and no one is monitoring.

There is no denying the fact that we are an import-based economy. In fact, imports have been increasing every year and it will only increase in future. Call it because of increased commercialization or changing modern lifestyle, fast foods and processed products are replacing actual meals. And as more and more variety of food products find its way into the country, there is a need to upgrade our testing facilities and develop capacity to ensure what we consume is actually safe and healthy. It’s a matter of public health issue and it’s time we are serious about monitoring the quality of imported foods.

As of now, ‘Consume at your own peril’, at best, is the only statutory warning!

What’s in a number!

It’s heartening to see that the government is making good strides on the unemployment front, at least that’s what the findings of the recent National Labour Force Survey reveal.

The national unemployment rate has slightly declined – the figure standing at 2.6% as of 2014. That it has come down by 0.3 percent in 2014 is an assuring indication.

Unquestionably, such an outcome has been possible because of new initiatives that the government has undertaken to address the unemployment issue in the country. Initiatives such as Guaranteed Employment Programs and Overseas Employment Scheme have certainly helped to get jobs for some of our unemployed youth for the time being.

Such measures are short term, but it’s also an indication that the government is doing something. The mere acknowledgment that youth unemployment is a major concern is a good beginning in itself. We also need to stop comparing unemployment scenario in Bhutan with other countries and stop saying, “It isn’t that bad, here!”

Even if figures are ostensibly assuring, many a time, it’s not the depiction of the real situation in the job market. Sometimes, it’s just the contrary. Unemployment among young adults is increasingly becoming a serious issue. Finding jobs is becoming difficult in all areas and it will only get worse with the increasing jobseekers who graduate from colleges and universities each year.YouthL

So where do we absorb them? How do we absorb 3,567 graduates, who have completed their preliminary exam and when there are just 538 slots in the civil service? While government jobs will be the most sought after, we need to understand that it’s not the role of the government to give or offer employment opportunities. The government is not there to give jobs.

The government should instead create enabling conditions and come up with policy reforms and interventions that allow the corporate and private sectors to grow so that they can play an increasingly important role in fostering economic growth and employment creation. The private sector has been envisioned as an engine of growth since the Sixth Five Year Plan, but it’s still in its infancy. The private sector is inflicted with problems of all sorts – doing businesses isn’t easy. Bureaucratic rigmarole and access to finance and credit have stunted its growth.

This is where the government can intervene and create enabling conditions. For now, layoffs and workforce retrenchments in the private sector is more common in the private sector. Let’s not even talk about job creation.