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Last Friday the Consumer Association of Ghana, drawing on the strength of a BBC report that a contaminated variety of the American long grain rice may have found its way into Ghana blew the whistle over the country’s over reliance on imported rice.
In a statement, the association said judging from the fact that Ghana is one of the top ten importers of rice from the US, she could become a source of contamination of food supplies.
The latest revelation of the possible importation of contaminated rice into the country is just a tip of the iceberg. A walk around the markets and supermarkets would open the average consumers’ eyes to the number of junk foods and other consumer items that are entering the country in the name of trade liberalisation.
This raises the question as to whether Ghana has a workable consumer policy. In Ghana, where over 30% of the population live below the poverty line, there are no consumer policies to ensure the survival of the poor.
A consumer policy and law for Ghana must ensure the survival and protection of the poor from unscrupulous businessmen/women who exploit their ignorance to sell them expired and hazardous food and substances.
Protecting consumers’ economic interests is as important as regulation to ensure that the goods and services are available at a reasonable price and are safe. There is a consumer dimension to almost every state policy and therefore there is a need to take consumer interest into account in all policy decisions through public consultation.
The former American President, John F Kennedy moved the consumers’ bill of rights in 1962 in the US Congress saying.. “If a consumer is offered inferior products, if prices are exorbitant, if drugs are unsafe or worthless, if the consumer is unable to choose on an informed basis, then his dollar is wasted, his health and safety may be threatened and national interest suffers.”
Kennedy equated consumers’ interest with national Interest. Every modern state seeks to provide the protection of the Right to Basic Needs of consumers particularly for the have-nots. The right to basic need is not just a consumer right, but a human right as well. Article 25 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights says: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, and housing and medical care and necessary social services.”
It is in line with this UN declaration that we join the Consumer Association to urge the appropriate government ministries and agencies to move quickly to identify the contaminated long grain in question and withdraw it from the market. Not only withdrawing it, its importation should be banned as the Japanese and the European Union (EU) have already done. What has just happened should be a reminder to our policy makers that any country that depends on another for food is constantly under threat of disease or political pressure. We need a Consumer Ombudsman now in the form of a central body to oversee all consumer protection issues with the support of consumer protection laws.
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