NAFDAC, Beverage Workers Bicker over Ban on Alcohol in Sachet

NAFDAC, Beverage Workers Bicker over Ban on Alcohol in Sachet

•Operators: Multinational brewers behind agency’s prohibition of our sachet products

Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja Raheem Akingbolu  and Dike Onwuamaeze in Lagos        

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and workers under the auspices of Beverage, Tobacco Senior Staff Association have disagreed over the ban on alcohol in sachet and less than 200 ml bottles.

The Distillers and Blenders Association of Nigeria (DIBAN) also alleged that multinational beer manufacturers in the country were behind the NAFDAC ban on the production of alcoholic beverages in sachets and less than 200ml PET bottles. 

However, while NAFDAC said it decided to phase out production of alcohol in sachet and pet bottles less than 200 ml by January 31, 2024, due to its dangerous health impact of the product to the society, beverage and tobacco union claimed that the outright ban was wrong since sachet drinks were registered food product.

The union also said they were worried over what would become of thousands of the workforce who would lose their jobs if the industry was shutdown.

Addressing members of the union who thronged the headquarters of NAFDAC yesterday morning to protest the ban of their products, President of AFBTE, Jimoh Oyibo, said NAFDAC did not carry out any form consultation or engagement with stakeholders before ordering the ban.

He said: “We are here because of what befalls our companies, once you shut down that pet sizes, it’s as good as losing the company, so, considering the number of our workers that are affected, we said no, we can’t allow this to go.

“Meanwhile, this are registered food products, we did not just come out of the blue and decided to produce.

“If we allow it to stay, it means that thousands of people will be affected and of course, the multiplier effect is something else. The ban came as a surprise, we were taken unawares, there was no engagement by the NAFDAC, the officers just came and sealed off our companies.”

On the way forward, Oyibo said there was need for constructive engagement with all stakeholders to look at what was possible.

However, on its part, NAFDAC explained that it did not ban alcohol production in bigger bottles.

In a statement, NAFDAC’s Resident Media Consultant Sayo Akintola, said the agency only banned alcohol in containers or sachet that a child could easily conceal.

The statement explained that the ban only concerned alcoholic content in sachet or PET bottles less than 200ml.

It stated: “AFBTE and DIBAN signed an agreement with MOH and NAFDAC and FCCPC in 2018 December that they will phase out production of alcohol in sachet and PET bottles less than 200 ml by January 31, 2024. “The agreement document is available.  A five-year phase out notice should be sufficient.

“Nigeria was one of the 193 Member States of WHO that reached an historical consensus on a global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol by adopted resolution WHA63.13 at the Sixty-third session of the World Health Assembly, held in Geneva in 2010.

‘This was seven years before my time, an agreement signed by Nigeria with other nations that we will protect youth by making alcohol not easily reachable and accessible.”

Meanwhile, DIBAN has alleged that multinational beer manufacturers in the country were behind the ban of the product.

The operators made this allegation during a press conference in Lagos State, where they insisted that banning the production of alcoholic beverages in sachets and less than 200ml PET bottles would wipe out 5.5 million direct and indirect jobs, devastate over N800 billion investments in the sub-sector and undermine the country’s banking system because most of the investments were executed with borrowed funds from Nigerian and foreign financial institutions.

Executive Secretary of DIBAN, Mr. John Ichue, claimed that of late, beer manufacturers have not been doing well in terms of market share and has been recording losses in their financials in the five past years.

Ichue said: “The undertone here is that they are directly responsible for what is going on (the ban). The idea is to get us out of business and take over our businesses. That is the agenda of the beer group. I want the press to realise that this is the direction they are going (sic).”

He alleged that the multinationals had tried the strategy in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania but failed in all the countries.

According to him, “what is happening is that there is a group out there that is putting pressure on the Director General of NAFDAC just to sustain their business. And that is what is playing out.

“We should know that most players in our sub-sector are indigenous players. The multinationals want to take our business. And that is the strategy. But by the grace of God that will not happen.” 

He added: “The government is currently working on National Alcohol Policy (NAP). The sub-committee of this policy will start their work this week. And we have asked the NAFDAC to please stay action until the NAP is put in place.

“The ministerial committee that is made up of 24 MDAs has also asked NAFDAC to stay action on the ban.

“Only NAFDAC out of the 24 members of the committee is pushing for a ban. That tells that there is more to it than meets the eye,” Ichue said.

Speaking in the same vein, the Chief Executive Officer of Stellar Beverages Limited, Mr. Ghandi Anandan, warned that any restriction by NAFDAC that would take away the means of consuming alcoholic products in moderation, preferably in smaller packages, would be unproductive.

Anandan said: “NAFDAC is pursuing moderation through availability of bigger sizes that will ensure consumption of larger quantities. This logic, in practicality, does not work.

“Alcohol, like any other food and beverage, has to be taken in moderation. Small is good. Smaller sizes ensure responsible drinking. On the other side big sizes actually encourage excessive consumption.”

He asked: “If you want to ban sachets, why do you not ban beer also? We are all NAFDAC registered products that have been on sale for years. Why do you want to stop us now? Does it have anything to do with the beer industry losing sales?”  

The Chairman of DIBAN, Mr. Patrick Anegbe, told journalists that the association was on the same page with the NAFDAC as far as checkmating underage access to alcohol is concerned.

Anegbe, who is also the chief executive officer Intercontinental Distillers, said: “The only difference between us and NAFDAC is the strategy that NAFDAC is trying to employ. It believes in outright ban, which we have said no to.”  

The Chief Executive Officer of Grand Oak Industries, Mr. Wale Majaolagbe, said introduction of sachet alcohol beverage by reputable companies eliminated the occurrence of sudden deaths during parties due to consumption of illicit beverages, adding that NAFDAC was not working in line with Tinubu’s Renewed Hope agenda.

The Director General of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Mr. Segun Ajayi-Kabir, highlighted the negative impact the NAFDAC’s directive would have on its members.

He said: “The association is deeply concerned about the ban imposed on spirit drinks in sachets and PET bottles less than 200ml. More disturbing is the fact that adequate consideration was not given to the impact such move would have on the manufacturers, the workers, the citizenry and the economy.”

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