Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), an agency of the United Nations, has raised the alarm over what it described as worrisome levels contamination of foods in Lagos and Kano states.
FAO said that a “Total Diet” study it carried out in two major Nigerian cities, Lagos and Kano showed various levels of contamination of foods at the point of consumption.
Speaking at an event jointly organised by the Federal Ministries of Health and Agriculture, to mark 2019 World Food Safety Day in Abuja, the Country representative of FAO in Nigeria, Suffyan Koruna said that street foods were now being consumed more than ever before, adding that Nigerians eat at least one meal out of home in restaurants, bukkas and other food vendors.
The FAO country representative who was represented by Mr. Alphonsus Onwuemeka said the organisation conducted a diet study in Lagos and Kano where it discovered rampant unsafe food consumption.
He said: “A Total Diet Study carried out in Lagos and Kano states showed worrisome levels of contamination of foods at the points of consumption with aflatoxins, mycotoxins, heavy metals such as lead and pesticides residues. This should re-awaken Nigeria to the looming health challenges and economic losses that could result from a lack of attention to food safety,” he said.
Onwuemeka said there was a likelihood that similar cases of food contamination exist in other major cities across the country.
He said that FAO was in the process of carrying out similar diet studies in other cities.
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Mr. A. M. Abdullahi who presided over the event said that unsafe food practices could lead to health problems such as typhoid, cholera, diarrhea, botulism, listeriosis, hapatitis A and cancer.
He said that in order to address food safety threats, the Federal Ministry of Health was working with the state Ministries of Health and Agriculture as well as the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria to further strengthen the work of Environmental Health Officers across the states to be able to check unsafe food practices.
Abdullahi listed unsafe food practices prevalent in the country to include; ” unhealthy cultivation practices through the use of unapproved chemicals (such as calcium carbide in fruit and vegetable ripening) and fertilizers; poor food storage and processing facilities as seen in a number of abattoirs and along the roads; the use of disused tires and kerosene in roasting animals for human consumption; non-hygienic food preparation environments as seen in the way foods are prepared by the roadsides, gutters and near open faecal defecation areas”.
As part of the long term policy solution, Abdullahi said the Federal Government along with other Food Safety stakeholders under the auspices of the National Food Safety management Committee (NFSMC) had developed the National Food Safety & Quality Bill which was approved by the Federal Executive Council and it was currently at the National Assembly for passage into law.
According to Abdullahi, the Bill was to ensure food control in the country where all tiers of government and MDAs would work together with the Organised Private Sectors (OPS) to ensure the wholesomeness of our food.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), foodborne diseases in 2015 was found to have made approximately 600m people sick and caused 420,000 untimely deaths. Unsafe foods have also been shown to lead to yearly productivity losses of about US$95billion in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC).