Opinion: Are Nigerian food vendors merchants of deaths? – By JIDE OJO
Every living thing needs food and water to live. They are one of the basic necessities of life, the other two being clothing and shelter. Ironically, many Nigerians are being fed with poisons in the name of food. A visit to our foodstuff markets will reveal to discerning minds that many of the raw food offered for sale are not fit for human consumption. They are either adulterated or contaminated.
Nutrition experts say many of the chemicals used to preserve most of the foods on sale in Nigeria are dangerous to human health. Some of the poultry products on sale in our markets are preserved with poisonous chemicals. An April 29, 2016 report in Thisday newspaper entitled, “Imported Frozen Poultry Product as a Silent Killer”, stated that “Medical experts have noted that these imported products are poisonous because smugglers use formalin to preserve and keep them fresh from neighbouring countries till they get to Nigeria. Formalin is a cancer-causing chemical capable of initiating liver and kidney diseases.” Even local butchers have been accused of using formalin to drive away flies from their meat while some fruit sellers use it as well to preserve their fruits from going bad quickly. I also watched a clip where some frozen chickens were being injected with steroids to increase their sizes.
In order to reduce or totally prevent post-harvest losses, many commercial farmers use all manner of toxic pesticides and insecticides to preserve their grains. Some of the chemicals applied are supposed to be for six months or a year but in situations where there are huge demands for such grains, they are prematurely brought to the market for sale. With the toxicity levels of these products still high, they end up posing health challenges to consumers.
Some plantain and banana sellers allegedly use ashes and carbide to forcefully ripen their products. This is a dangerous practice as it constitutes health hazards to consumers. Many women who go shopping at the local markets will bear witness to the many adulterated products being offered for sale. It ranges from rice, to beans, garri, yam flour, cassava flour, grinded pepper, egusi, groundnut oil, palm oil to honey and all sorts. Only experienced women and men know how to spot the difference between the fake and the original.
Some canned foods are not left out. They are either fake or expired; yet, they are offered for sale to unsuspecting members of the public. The same goes for many of the bottled drinks. There is a raging controversy that many of the soft drinks contain certain amount of pesticides. Earlier this year, a Lagos High Court ruled that high levels of benzoic acid and additives in some soft drinks could pose a health risk to consumers when mixed with ascorbic acid, commonly known as Vitamin C. There is also the fear that the sugar content of many of the soft drinks produced for consumption in Nigeria is too high and makes consumers prone to obesity and diabetes.
Due to epileptic power supply, many of the restaurants, cafeteria and bukataria operating in Nigeria are said to use all manner of preservatives whose chemical compositions may not be health friendly. That’s why some of the meals offered for sale there have some funny taste. As I write this, despite the warning by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, for Nigerians to stop the habit of cooking moimoi (beans paste) with cellophane (nylon) bags, the practice is still sustained in many households.
Ogbeh made the disclosure when he spoke at the public hearing on Food Security Bill, organised by the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development in Abuja on June 2, 2016. According to him, cellophane bags contain a large dosage of dioxins that are harmful to health. He advised lovers of the delicacy to make use of leaves in the preparation rather than cellophane, adding that leaves do not contain such poisonous substance.
Ogbeh, a farmer, said beans and grains preserved with an overdose of pesticides by farmers and sellers had killed many unsuspecting Nigerians. He also said the consumption of (pure) water in sachets exposed to sun at over 28 degree Celsius was poisonous and its consumption responsible for many cases of kidney and liver failure among Nigerians. The minister said poorly boiled meat could cause tuberculosis. He warned further that the wrong application of fertiliser by farmers had led to consumption of poisonous foods. “Unknown to many farmers, there is a specific fertiliser for specific crops in specific states in line with soil texture’’, he said. Despite this timely warning more than a year ago, Nigerians still carry on with scant regards for food safety.
Food safety is very important but Nigerians seem to care less about it. Often times, I see women using road sides to dry cassava flour and grains such as guinea corn, maize, rice and the like. This is a dangerous practice. It is the mishandling of our food that lead to many instances of families dying or having running stomach after meal. It will be recalled that in June 2015, the local gin popularly known as “ogogoro” reportedly killed 70 people in Woji and Gokana communities of Rivers State. The Director Public Health Services, Rivers Ministry of Health, Nnanna Onyekwere, while confirming the deaths told the News Agency of Nigeria in Port Harcourt, said two of the survivors had visual impairment. The deaths were recorded as a result of contamination of the locally brewed drink. It is most disheartening that the government is trying to promote Genetically Modified Organisms consumption. It is widely believed that they are unsafe.
It is imperative for Nigerian health officials responsible for food safety and security to redouble their efforts to educate Nigerians about the dangers of some of the foods and drinks being consumed in this country. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Ministry of Health, especially the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Environmental Health Officers or Sanitary Inspectors, National Orientation Agency and the media among others have a big role to play in sensitising the public and confiscating as well as arresting anyone who imports or locally manufactures dangerous foods and drinks. There is no gainsaying that many of the itemised unwholesome practices in the handling of Nigerian foods are what is responsible for the rise in cases of cancer, kidney, heart and liver failures, hypertension, diabetes and indeed premature deaths. A stich in time saves nine!
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