Ensuring Food Safety


Last Friday was the maiden observance of World Food Safety Day. Proclaimed on December 20, 2018 by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), June 7 now serves as a day to raise global awareness to the seemingly simple but very crucial need to ensure the safety of whatever man produces and consumes as food.
Spearheaded by two United Nations agencies, namely the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the day aims at inspiring food safety campaigns in a manner that reduces food-borne ailments and food poisoning around the world.
Going by WHO’s figures in 2015, approximately 600 million people suffered from food-borne diseases out of which about 420,000 died globally, mainly children below five years.
Considering the unacceptable low levels of sanitation and hygiene, particularly in the highly-populated poor countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, this year’s theme, “Food Safety, Everyone’s Business,” cannot be more apt.
Climate change, with its dire economic consequences on mankind, means that dangerous short-cuts have been adopted as survival strategies across the world. For instance, in Nigeria, grated cassava is hardly kept to stay out its due fermentation period before being processed into garri; just as an overdose of fertilizers and pesticides applied during planting and the use of detergents, calcium carbide and other toxic chemicals to ripen fruits have become common.
Also worthy of mention is the continued use of discarded vehicle tyres to process meat at the nation’s abattoirs, formalin for preserving poultry meat and other harmful chemicals for storing beans, maize and other grains.
We recall that a few years ago, the media was awash with news of the ban on imports of beans, yams, palm oil, groundnuts and other food items from Nigeria by the European Union on account of these food materials being tainted by dangerous chemicals.
Again, an international brand of soft drink exported from Nigeria was reportedly rejected abroad after laboratory tests proved that it was substandard and highly conterminated.
WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, had, at a two-day WHO, FAO and African Union international food safety conference held in February in Addis Ababa, recommended that at every stage of the food value chain, from production, harvesting, processing, packaging, storage, distribution, preparation and consumption, there should be regulation by a constitutionally empowered agency.
During a speech to mark the food safety day in Abuja, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health, Mr. Abdullahi Mashi, reportedly assured that his ministry was working with state Health and Agriculture Ministries to further strengthen the work of environmental health officers.
He also disclosed that the Federal Executive Council had approved for the Food Safety and Nutrition Directorate of the National Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to be expanded for effective and efficient achievement of its mandate.
Mashi agreed that, given the unhygienic environment in which foods are prepared and sold in Nigeria, especially by the roadside, open drainages and near faecal defecation areas; there was bound to be diseases like typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea, botulism, hepatitis A and cancer-related ailments
Despite these assurances, however, The Tide is worried that NAFDAC seems to have run out of steam since the exit of its former boss, late Professor Dora Akunyili. Genuine alarms raised by vigilant traders over the infiltration of fake and substandard goods and food stuff into the markets do not appear to have been followed up as there is hardly news of any arrests.
Added to this is the discovery that veterinary experts, public health and environmental officers are hardly regular at the abattoirs. We suspect that while some may have been compromised with daily supply of meat which health condition they never even certified, others have been threatened to abandon any further nosey inspections by the usually powerful butchers’ associations.
Spot checks on hotels and roadside eateries are almost non-existent. The bottomline, therefore, is that the government should continue to insist that its relevant agencies live up to their mandates. But while that is on, individuals should also endeavour to be more circumspect in sourcing and handling their food. Nigerians already have insatiable appetite for foreign processed food. And this, we think, is both unhealthy and unpatriotic.