By - Adedoyin Shittu
Nigeria have seen a rise in cases of cancer, kidney, heart and liver failures, hypertension, diabetes and indeed premature deaths. What used to be termed as “the rich man disease” has become a scourge to all irrespective of social class. There is no gainsaying that many of these itemised ailments is as a result of what we eat. The number of diabetes is estimated to double between 2011 and 2030 in Nigeria. Cancer is also on the rise in Nigeria.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 41,000 people lost their lives to cancer out of 166, 000 cases recorded in Nigeria last year. But even worse, WHO Nigeria Health Emergency Team head, Dr. Clement Peter raised concerns that the country might continue to experience a rise in the cancer cases. “It is feared that by 2020, cancer incidence for Nigerian males and females may rise to 91/100,000 and 101/100,000, respectively. It is also estimated that by 2020, death rates from cancer for Nigerian males and females may reach 73/100,000 and 76/100,000 respectively”.
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. Late last year, a video clip showing two young men using synthetic chemical (sniper) came to the public knowledge. This led to the heighten fear of the re-emergence of killer beans in the market.
A bean merchant who demanded anonymity told The Guardian Newspaper that “what many people did not know is that, farmers have always been using Sniper to preserve their grains. They do not feel any remorse when applying it, because according to them, that is the only method they know for beans preservation.”
It could be recalled that almost 23 years ago, mysterious beans called “killer beans” struck the market in the south-western part of the country and led to the death of at least 16 people.
14 people in Lagos reportedly died after eating the killer beans and an akara seller in Ogun state died after eating her own beans cakes when she tried to prove to her customers that they were not poisonous.
From time immemorial, cereal farmers and grain merchants have often sought ways to preserve their products; beans inclusive, with the application of red dry pepper but the untold story is that the unofficial method of beans preservation is the use of these poisonous chemicals not minding the consequences. Cowpeas are highly susceptible to pest infestation and bean weevils are common pests that attack beans, and this leads to huge post-harvest losses, lower food quality and poor food safety. To reduce these losses, majority of farmers and grain merchants employ various insect control measures.
Merchants use chemicals like organophosphates (such as DDVP), pyrethroids (such as Permethrin, Deltamethrin) and some already banned class of chemicals (organochlorides such as gammalin) for the storage of beans. Therefore, the general public is at health risk due to the harmful effects of these chemicals.
Though the the National Agency for Food, Drugs and Administrative Control [NAFDAC] has taken decisive steps to check the ugly practice and restore order by withholding the grains from the market period after application of the agrochemicals, it has not been thoroughly successful in keeping such grains from consumers as retail traders also administer the chemicals. Beans is not the only culprit food that might be unfit for consumption but other grains have followed in the same pattern. Report has shown that there is high level of pesticides residue unfit for human consumption are also found in grains sold in the market and it poses risk to human health.
Poultry products also pose health risk to Nigerians. In 2000, the Nigerian government under the leadership of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo banned the importation of frozen poultry products after the repeated warning by medical practitioners and nutritionists on the health hazards that is associated with the consumption of imported frozen foods. This ban has not stopped the importation of the product due to poor implementation of the law at the Nigerian border. This also has not deterred the Nigerian consumers from consuming the imported poultry products. Aside the role ignorance plays, Nigerians just like cheap products, which is the reason they are going for the imported frozen chicken.
Though the risks caused by imported frozen foods to public health cannot be over exaggerated, as some of the chemicals used in the preservation of the animals could form residues in humans and eventually result in public health dangers.
Medical experts believe that consumption of imported frozen poultry products can be a silent killer, without showing symptoms for prolonged periods.
The risk in the imported frozen products arises from use of substances that can predispose one to kidney, liver and lung diseases as well as certain types of cancers and drug resistant bacterial infections, among others.
Smugglers use formalin to preserve and keep them fresh from neighbouring countries till they get to Nigeria. It has been revealed that formalin load in all smuggled poultry products ranges from 42.9 to 63.3ml/kg, which portends serious danger for the consumers.
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 and some poultry farmer inject their birds with steroids to increase their sizes.
In 2015, a research sponsored by Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), led by Prof. Tewe, investigated the level of antibiotics in meat including poultry products and it was discovered to have high microbial load of Salmonella and E. Coli app, contaminants like formalin and veterinary drug residues of antibiotics were also found. From the research, it was discovered that, the pathogen, Salmonella spp is the leading cause of death among those with high consumption of smuggled poultry meat.
It is no longer news that consumption of imported poultry products can cause diseases like cancer, heart diseases, kidney diseases, hypertension and all manner of sicknesses. But what is worrisome is that Nigerians are still going for the unwholesome products without knowing or disregarding the health implications.
In 2015, customs dug out a canal there and buried thousands of cartons of frozen poultry seized at the Onne Ports, Rivers State. Scavengers came in form of men, women and children with shovels, pans, basins and buckets to cart their loot home.
Fruits and vegetables are not left out of this dangerous chemical loading. Though highly nutritious and form a key food commodity in the human consumption, fruits and vegetables are highly perishable due to their low shelf life.
Most of the fresh vegetables in the market are loaded with harmful chemicals to make them undesirable for pest consumption such as termite invasion. It is required that after spraying these chemicals on the vegetables, it is not fit for human consumption for at least two weeks but many traders do not adhere to this but sell it immediately to final consumers who consume it immediately.
A large body of evidence has linked exposure to pesticides to an elevated rate of chronic diseases including; cancer and diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS, birth defects and reproductive disorders, asthma and more chemicals like calcium carbide, Ethephon and oxytocin are also reportedly being used in fruit and vegetable for artificial ripening of fruits and to increase the size of fruits and vegetables respectively. Calcium carbide has the ability to alter cells into cancerous cells as well as cause other harms to the body. In many countries is an offence to use calcium carbide in ripening fruits.
It is a common practise in Nigeria to ripen plantain or banana with ashes or carbide in Nigeria. Ethephon is a pesticide and so it is not recommended as a ripening enhancer also. Oxytocin is a mammalian hormone, used as a drug in veterinary services and is not advised for use in fresh fruits and vegetables.
Some fruit farmers also use formalin as well to preserve their fruits from going bad quickly.
Though NAFDAC is aware of the use of artificial ripening agents, no strong measures have been taken to curb the practice.
Most of our staple food are locally prepared in the rural area using crude method. It is however a common sight to see roadside used to dry cassava flour, groundnut and grains such as guinea corn , maize, rice and others. This is a dangerous practise. These food crops are exposed to carbon deposits, dust, heavy metals settlement and effluents which settle on them and are in turn eaten by humans.
Some of these crops are spread close to gutters and drainage and the crops breathe in contaminated air. Often times, animals such as lizards, goats and fowls climb on these crops to feed on them. Little is done to monitor and maintain the cleanliness of these produce that is to be sold for mainstream consumption.
Canned foods are not left out of these malpractices. A visit to many superstore and kiosk will show that most canned foods 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 and wines.
Do we need to mention the harm the fizzy drink is causing the Nigerian populace? In 2017, Justice Adebayo Oyebanji of the Lagos High Court, Igbosere gave a judgement ordering the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to instruct the National Bottling Company, to issue out a warning to Nigerians that drinking either Fanta or Sprite with Vitamin C, is poisonous.
This was as a result of an experience in March, 2007; Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited bought large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda water, for export and subsequent retail in United Kingdom.
The goods were seized and confiscated due to fundamental health concerns over the content of the Sprite and Fanta soft drinks. It was corroborated by the regulatory agencies in the European Union, which stated that the soft drinks contained excessive levels of sunset yellow and benzonic acid, which are classified as carcinogenic.
Though benzoic acid is a useful antibacterial and antifungal preservative in acidic food and also beverages as it can extend shelf life. A scientist, who is based in Nigeria and who is dealing with NAFDAC, asked to remain anonymous, said that some human toxicity studies had already shown that benzoic acid could react with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) in soft drinks to form benzene. ‘While benzoic acid itself is relatively non-toxic when benzene is formed in the presence of ascorbic acid in food, it is especially dangerous, since benzene is widely known to be toxic and associated with many forms of cancer. These include leukemia and other types of blood cancer,’ said the scientist.
In its defence, the Nigerian Bottling Company argued that NBC did supply the products, but they were meant for local distribution and consumption, as it does not produce for export. So that means what is created for consumption in the EU is different from what we have in the Nigerian market.
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.
Food safety is very important but the government and also Nigerians seem to care less about it unlike other nations. It is no surprise that 67 processed and semi-processed food products of Nigeria origin exported to the European Union were rejected in 2015 and 2016 including dry beans. It said that foreign agents discovered in some of them after analyses were glass fragments, rodent excrement and dead insects. A three year ban was placed on dry beans exported from Nigeria.
It noted that high levels of chemical contaminants, some of which were used in fumigation, like aluminium phosphide, dichlorvos, dimethoate, trichlorphon, cyhalothrin, were also discovered in the products.
The report stated that microbes such as salmonella, aflatoxins and mould growth were also discovered in some of the products.
Food safety should be the duty of every individual and not just NAFDAC because it affects us all. The NSPRI boss, Professor Olufemi Peter, said, “If you see that the grain is dusty and choky or has offensive odour or strange smell that is not peculiar to the grains, it may suggest that some kind of synthetic chemicals might have been used. Be careful.” Grains should be parboiled, decanted and washed before final cooking. This will significantly reduce high levels of the chemical used to a safe limit for consumption. He also suggest that grains bought for consumption should be kept at home for about two weeks before consumption.
Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly with water (preferably) running potable water before eating and cooking and to minimize the hazards of pesticide residues, the outer leaves of leafy vegetables such as lettuce and cabbage should be discarded.
Proper administration of chemicals should be performed by experts under safety precautions and traders should be discouraged from indiscriminate application of chemicals on food products such as grains. The NAFDAC should embark on impromptu investigation in the market to arrest defaulters. Stringent monitoring of use of pesticides in agriculture and food storage in Nigeria is required.
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