The recent emergence and presence of counterfeit dairy products on the shelves of big stores is an outrageous attack on Pakistan’s dairy industry. While there are many damaging effects on the industry, the gravest of concerns to be addressed here is the health of the public.
The questionable quality of the smuggled products can cause harmful, and sometimes fatal, consequences for the unsuspecting buyer.
Then why are consumers buying counterfeits?
Given the current environment of economic uncertainty and the real threat of significant declines in income, many consumers are now unable to purchase branded products. Subsequently, buying cheap counterfeit products is a tempting option, especially for consumers with low budgets, as the average Pakistani feels the hit of pressing inflation, which has dwindled the purchasing power of the consumer, and now the public has reprioritized their expenses from health and education to meet essential food needs. They are forced to buy low-cost products, in the hope of reducing their grocery budgets. The stifling annual inflation rate in Pakistan increased to 27.3% in August of 2022, the highest since May of 1975, from 24.9% in July, and figures could go even higher as the country undergoes the impact of devastating floods.
Amid skyrocketing prices, while the public may be happy to have struck a cheaper deal, it needs to realize the harmful consequences of using products by unscrupulous vendors of substandard merchandise. The end consumer will be the one who may pay the steep price in the form of compromised health and reduced public safety.
These misbranded products pose a serious threat to the health of consumers around the country, who are assumed to inherit the future of this nation. Consumption of these products may be satisfactory in the short term. But investment in one’s health doesn’t come cheap. Eating healthy and certified products will take care of the future generation alone.
Combatting counterfeit, illegally imported, and unapproved products need to be targeted at the roots – the consumers. Once consumers stop buying these products, there will be a general uplift in the health of the nation. The presence of counterfeit products and the reason they are so dangerous is the complete absence of quality control since they are often indistinguishable from genuine products.
The intensive use of counterfeit products, the Covid-19 pandemic that has largely reduced immunity, and the recent floods, have all driven the consequences of the counterfeiting issue to become a critical concern, as they are more likely to contain dangerous ingredients than authentic goods.
As counterfeit products do not go through mandatory consumer compliance and safety tests before being put on the market, they have adverse effects from substandard ingredients. Failure to cure or prevent future diseases results in increased mortality, morbidity, and the prevalence of the disease. This will eventually lead to an increase in individual and health system spending on health care. The consumer eventually ends up paying more because of lost income due to prolonged illness or death.
All of us know that Pakistan is cripplingly challenged with water and airborne diseases owing to floods, polio, vitamin D deficiencies in children and mothers, and an overall lack of resources in the health infrastructure, hospital network, and the required medical practitioners. The total health facilities in Pakistan include 1,276 hospitals, 5,802 dispensaries, and 736 rural health centers. Usage of these products can also contribute to a loss of confidence in healthcare professionals, health programs, and health systems.
To mitigate these threats and help ensure public safety, concerned regulatory authorities must work alongside the state and law enforcement partners across the country to dismantle counterfeit operations and products and the organized, undocumented crime it has deliberately orchestrated into.
Continuous actions, efforts, and financial resources are essential for the agencies, to track, monitor and tackle the threat from the illegal activities of counterfeiters. Robust state licensure supervision of vendors and suppliers would be helpful.
Monitoring the availability of counterfeits is not simple, but it is necessary, given the serious public health issues they carry. The threat to the safety of Pakistanis and smuggled products merits strong sanctions. Pakistan needs to improve the use of technology to track and trace such products.
While all of the above is necessary, one is responsible for his or her own good health. It is the duty of the consumer to embrace a wise attitude, for their own good and avoid using smuggled counterfeit products altogether.
Buying counterfeit products may instantly save some money, but paying with our health means a greater cost for all of us. The insinuations for the consumption of smuggled products are strong and clear: counterfeits can kill.
The Author Sara Danial is a freelance journalist with a keen interest in economics. She may be reached at email@example.com. She tweets @sarashraf