The market is flooded with food products that are labeled in languages like Mandarin and Thai among others despite the Food Act of Bhutan 2005 stating that prepackaged food intended for sale in the country must be labelled either in English or Dzongkha.
The Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA), Ministry of Agriculture and Forests had also notified food business operators that all prepackaged food intended for sale in the country must be labelled either in English or Dzongkha.
BAFRA issued an notification in June 2017 stating that prepackaged food labels must have the minimum labeling requirements as per the Bhutan standard for labelling of prepackaged food including name of the food, list of ingredients, net content, name and address of manufacturer, country of origin, lot identification or batch number, manufacturing date and expiry date.
The labeling requirements were supposed to be implemented strictly nationwide with effect from January 1, 2018.
The notification states this aimed to provide informed choices to the consumers while purchasing the food so that consumers are not misled and also in the interest of food safety.
Senior Regulatory and Quarantine Officer of BAFRA, Kubir Nath Khattarai said that the requirement to label all imported foods was enforced since January 2018.
“If you find any imported food products still unlabeled in the markets, those could be the one imported before the enforcement of the rule,” Kubir Nath Khattarai said, adding that this is because they allowed the shopkeepers to dispose the unlabeled foods that were imported before the rule came into effect.
He added that BAFRA monitors on two levels; firstly, they do inspection within the country going shop to shop ensuring that all food products are sold as per regulations and they monitor at the entry points, through which majority of the foods enter the Bhutanese market.
He said that at entry points, if those food products come unlabeled, they make them label in either English or Dzongkha before it is allowed to enter the market.
“When we encounter unlabelled food, we seize and dispose them,” he said, adding that they do create awareness among the people.
BAFRA usually does not seize local products. If they encounter unlabelled local products, they advise and create awareness on the need to have correct labeling, he added.
Similarly, Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) under the Ministry of Economic Affairs had also issued a notification through Bhutan Broadcasting Service informing all manufacturers, traders, retailers and other business establishments to affix correct product labelling on every product that are sold in the market.
OCP stated that this requirement is as per the Consumer Protection Act and Regulations and indicated that non-compliance will be dealt as per the provision of the Act and Regulations, which is imposing of fines and penalties and cancellation of business license.
Additionally, the OCP notification was issued subsequent to regular advocacy programs carried out by the office sensitizing all business establishments on the legal requirements to affix product labelling to ensure their compliance and also to indicate that the office will be vigorously carrying market inspections and non-adherence to this requirement shall be dealt with seriously.
A shopkeeper from Eight Eleven grocery store in Thimphu said that they do not import food items labeled in languages other than English and Dzongkha anymore. “Now, it has been more than a year that we have stopped selling those food products,” she said.
She also said that they used to import food products which are labeled in Chinese and other languages from Bangkok earlier. “But now, these products are all labeled in English as well,” she said. “Authorities concerned conduct regular inspections.”
Another shopkeeper said that she used to sell products which were not labeled in English and Dzongkha earlier but they received information to stop doing so. Additionally, she also said that the food products which were not labeled in English earlier are all labeled now.
Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu (Additional reporting by Jigme Wangchen)