WHEN Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) launched its food outlets in Kathmandu promising ‘international eating-out experience’ to Nepalis in 2009, long lines could be seen outside its Durbar Marg branch for a bite of its famous crispy chicken strips. Since, its two branches have become hotspots for young Kathmanduites to hang out and get a taste of KFC’s ‘world-renowned’ delicacies. Perhaps no more. The recent revelation that Devyani International, the operator of KFC in Nepal, had been importing unhealthy chicken from India, a country that has had to fend off repeated bird flu epidemics in recent times, has raised serious concerns about the quality of meat products on offer at KFC and other eateries in Kathmandu. It is vitally important that this unhealthy and immoral practice be thoroughly investigated.
KFC had been claiming that it was importing chicken all the way from Brazil, since Nepali chicken apparently failed to meet international hygiene standards. But Saturday’s interception of its Kathmandu-bound vehicles shows that it has been dishonest. The revelations are especially troubling since the government, fearing the entry of bird flu, has banned the import of poultry products from India. There is another poignant side to this story. Nepal’s own poultry entrepreneurs have failed to find adequate market for their products at home, even while their batches of chicken were relatively safer. This was the reason poultry farmers of Dhading, fed up with government apathy and inaction, decided to take matters into their own hands and seized the chicken containers bound for Kathmandu.
Was KFC taking undue advantage of Nepali fast food consumers’ fascination with foreign eateries? For the record, the reputation of the international food chain, with over 17,000 outlets across 105 countries, is not clean even in its home country. It has been sued time and again in the US for peddling unhygienic products which was contributing to a rapid growth of the country’s obese population and in its attendant risks. Actions have rightly been initiated against four senior quarantine officials who allowed the entry of containers with unhealthy meat into Kathmandu and an investigating panel has been formed under joint secretary of Ministry of Agriculture Development (MoAD) to get to the bottom of the case. But that is not enough. Consumer health can be secured only when food outlets (including foreign food chains like KFC and Pizza Hut which until now had been getting the benefit of the doubt) are strictly monitored for food quality.
Although the government’s record on this front has been far from satisfactory, its sporadic success does give some hope. In September 2011, the government had launched a widespread monitoring campaign of food outlets and had apprehended the operators of the outlets selling substandard products, as happened in the case of some Gudpak stores in New Road. The Department of Commerce (which oversees food quality in the market) and the Department of Food Technology and Quality Control (responsible for consumer protection), as the latest lapses indicate, may have failed to carry out their duties responsibly. Moreover, there also appears to be serious loopholes at the Department of Customs, whose officials colluded in the entry of unhealthy meat products into Nepal. These shortcomings could have serious health implications on consumers of meat products in Nepal. No one has the right to play with the health of the people. Those responsible for these unlawful and unethical activities must be brought to book. Perhaps the authorities could start with KFC.