People have long known about the circulation of food adulterated with dangerous substances in the market, but the reported sale of synthetic or “plastic” rice constitutes a serious crime committed out of greed. Law enforcers must act quickly to stop this illicit trade and bring anyone involved to justice.
We will not know the full impact of the felony until someone falls victim to the fake rice, but millions may be vulnerable to the crime as rice is themain staple food here. The scam came to light after a porridge seller in Bekasi, West Java reported to the police earlier this week that rice she had bought from a local market turned out to be synthetic. Police in East Java also discovered bogus rice in a market.
State survey company PT Sucofindo confirmed that the rice sample taken from the Bekasi kiosk contained hazardous substances, including polyvinyl chloride, a material used to make pipes, cables and floor tiles and benzyl butyl phtalate (BBT), Bis 2-ethylhexyl phtalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phtalate (DNIP), commonly used to soften pipes and cables.
The rice mix, a blend of synthetic resin, sweet potato and Chinese potato, was first detected in Kerala, India, and according to scientists could cause cancer and other health problems. The product has reportedly reached Vietnam also.
The plastic rice is the latest in a series of such dangerous foods on sale in the market. Crackdowns on various snacks containing textile coloring in school compounds have frequently been conducted, but the practice continues.
Formaldehyde is routinely used to preserve fish, meat and fruit and borax is widely used in tofu and meatballs. Danger also lurks in drugstores as fake medicines are freely on sale.
The government is busy calming the public in the wake of the adulterated rice discovery. Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel said the government was tracing down suppliers of the rice, which may have been imported illegally.
The most immediate step the government has to take is to protect the country’s large population through a nationwide awareness campaign, if necessary via the mass media, to help the public identify the dangerous product. The plastic rice is characterized by its hard nature after it has been cooked.
Learning from the previous enforcement of the law against poisonous food and drugs, this time around the government has to get tough with anyone involved in the production and distribution of synthetic rice. Maximum punishments should be mandatory in order to create a deterrent effect.
Considering the threat facing our sizable population, the government should not rely on short-lived actions to fight these criminals. A long-term program to educate people to consume only healthy food is a must.
The circulation of dangerous food will eventually add more of a burden to the state budget allocated for the National Health Insurance (JKN) universal medical care program. Therefore, preventive measures in the form of a massive campaign to help the public recognize contaminated food will save a lot of lives and state funds.