Big Food in Africa: The System in Ghana and Scandals

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Big Food In Africa
Big Food In Africa

INTRODUCTION

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, food is a substance consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and other nutrients used in the body of an organism to sustain growth and vital processes and to furnish energy. However, in some cases and times, food ceases to be food due to various forms of contamination. This causes a lot of harm to the growth process, diseases and even death. All over the world food scandals have been continuously uncovered. From the 1950s when Quaker Oats teamed up with MIT and fed mentally ill children radioactive oatmeal to May this year (2022) when Kinder Surprise eggs from Ferrero were recalled over salmonella fears after at least 150 European people fell ill. Over 120 countries were concerned by the recall. Also, Buitoni’s frozen pizzas from Nestlé have been linked to at least 75 cases of E. coli. And two children died in France. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that 600 million people around the world, or 1 out of 10 each year, become ill after consuming contaminated food. Out of this population 420,000 die, including 125,000 children under 5 years of age, due to their vulnerability to develop a diarrheal syndrome, about 43% of Food Borne Diseases (FBDs) occur in these patients. Several of these contaminated food scandals abound in Africa too. In 2018, for example, a South African company Enterprise Foods recalled all its processed meat products from supermarket shelves after it was established that contaminated meats from their Polokwane Factory had caused what was branded as the worst outbreak of listeriosis in the world. In just one year, 218 people lost their lives and 1,065 fell ill because of the meat products. Because this recall only took place within South Africa’s borders, the effects on people in other African countries where this product was shipped will never be known. 

Ghana as an African country is no exception to these food scandals. This article will therefore take a look at the food industry of Ghana, the scandals, the regulatory frameworks, traditional food, big food issues and the way forward.

The Food Industry in Ghana

The Ghanaian food industry is made of diverse varieties which are a product of its climate, its history and its people. The southern part of the country is forested, humid and wet. For this reason, you will get a lot of fresh fruits, greens, plantains, tubers (cassava, cocoyam) and oil palm. Moving north, there is a transition zone in the Brong Ahafo Region where the climate transitions from tropical to Savanah. The northern part of Ghana touches the southern portion of the Sahel region of Africa. Most of the food consumed in Ghana is actually grown from the transition zone upwards. This includes most crops grown in the forested regions as well as rice, tubers, millet, fonio, guinea corn, vegetables, cash crops like shea butter, and superfoods like baobab and moringa. 

Indigenous Ghanaian food consists of a lot of spicy soups and stews made with a lot of tomatoes, onions, pepper, ginger and a variety of indigenous spices. Stews are thick and are usually accompanied with starchy tubers like the West African yam, or plantains. Soups are light and accompanied with a variety of starchy swallows made from tubers like cassava, cocoyam or West African yam, plantains, maize, millet, guinea corn, rice and others.

However, studies have shown that most Ghanaian consumers prefer foreign goods to that of local goods this includes food. A study by A. Opoku and K. Akorli (2009) concluded that (a) country of origin is more important than price and other product attributes and at least as important as brand name, in the Ghanaian consumer choice, (b) the Ghanaian consumer holds the ‘Made in Ghana’ label in low regard relative to foreign labels and (c) superior quality and consumer taste are the two most important reasons for the Ghanaian consumer preference for foreign products. This preference of the Ghanaian consumer has led to the importation of various food products into the country and its accompanying damping effects such as expired products, contaminated foods, GMO foods and junk foods among others. This has also led to an increase in the number of big food industries entering the country. In recent times, in the name of agriculture modernisation in order to improve food security, a lot of foreign companies have entered the Ghanaian food market. 

  • In August 2020, Ghana commissioned a new greenhouse project which has the capacity to produce around 4,500 tonnes of tomatoes annually with produce being sold to grocery retailers such as Shoprite. 
  • In September 2021, Netherlands-based Bunge Loders Croklaan opened a new shea butter processing plant in Tema, Ghana. The shea stearin produced from crushed shea nuts at the factory in Ghana will be sent to plants in the Netherlands, the US, Canada and Malaysia for processing into a range of food and non-food products. 
  • In May 2020, the Thai Union Group resumed operations at its Pioneer Food Cannery in Ghana. The cannery was closed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but testing showed significantly lower numbers of positive Covid-19 cases in employees than was initially indicated. The company does not expect to see a significant long-term impact from the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ghana’s mass grocery retail (MGR) segment has attracted significant overseas investment in the past few years. South Africa based Shoprite is one of the fastest-growing foreign retailers operating in the country. It currently operates six stores in the country, five of which are in the capital, and has been present since 2003. Other notable organised MGR outlets in the capital are Marks Mart, Melcom, and Koala. Unilever, Cadbury and Nestle are also major players in the Ghanaian food and beverage industry.

Food Scandals in Ghana

In Ghana, over 625,000 food poisoning incidents are recorded annually with over 297,104 people hospitalised annually, according to a Ministry of Food and Agriculture and World Bank 2007 report. Recently, there is an incident at a popular East Legon food joint Marwako when multiple customers came out to complain bitterly about the ordeal they went through after patronising the food joint. Customers gave accounts of food poisoning they suffered after eating from the restaurant, with some being hospitalised for days and others being on several medications.

Analyses of samples of food, juice drinks and swabs taken from the environment at the East Legon branch of Marwako Fast Food Limited has revealed that there are microbial load (pathogens) which could be linked to food borne disease. The levels of sanitation and hygiene in the food preparation areas in all the three facilities were poor. This was revealed in a press release issued by the Chief Executive Officer of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), Mrs Delese Mimi Darko.

Reacting to the issue, Mr Douglas Tagoe, the Greater Accra Regional Environmental Health and Sanitation Director, said Accra is sitting on ‘food poisoning time bomb’ with unwholesome food sold ‘everywhere.’ He said it was unfortunate people jostled for food everyday but unconcerned about where the food was brought from.

In November, 2011 Dan Flynn reported from Buipe in the Northern Region of killer beans that wiped away an entire family in a freak food poisoning incident. According to government officials, a woman buying food for a household in the town of Serube purchased the allegedly deadly beans at the Buipe public market. The beans were then served to the family, which consisted of a man and his two wives, two daughters and two sons. The victims were all dead on arrival at Tamale Teaching Hospital. Within about 45 minutes after eating, the victims’ mouths started foaming.  

Below is a table of some reported incidents of suspected food poisoning in Ghana media.

Media/Year Case/Report Institutions
Ghana Web (2017) Jack and Jill biscuits suspected to be poisonous Accra, Ghana
Myjoyonline (2016) Ninety eight percentage off salad by street food vendors contain E. coli Accra, Ghana
Citi FM (2014) Fifteen students rushed to hospital over suspected case of food poisoning North Ridge SHS
Adomonline (2014) Two dead from food poisoning in Akropong in Eastern region Akropong community
Modernghana.com (2014) University of cape coast closed down food market as student dies from suspected food poisoning University of Cape Coast
GNA (2014) Twenty students hospitalized from suspected food poisoning Awudome SHS in Ho-Volta Region
GNA (2013) Forty SHS students rushed to hospital over suspected food poisoning after evening meal Twifo Praso SHS  Central Region
Citifm (2013) Over 40 students hospitalized over food Poisoning. Adonten SHS in Eastern Region
Ghana Web (2012) Fifteen farmers died in late 2010 from suspected pesticides food poisoning Upper East Region-Ghana
Daily Guide, Ghana Web (2011) Seventeen die of suspected food poisoning Ghana
Annon (2010) Outbreak of food poisoning at child naming ceremony Anyaa, Ghana. Fifty three guest felt ill Ghana
Joy News (2010) Over 100 girls hospitalized from food poisoning after eating in dining hall Archbishop Porter Girls Western Region
Joy News (2009) Pupils reject insect infested meals supplied in school feeding program me Atwima Nwabiagya- Ashanti Region
Ministry of Health (2007) 1,348 children suffered food poisoning among school food served by contracted caterers Ghana
Daily guide (2007) Dozens of students from two public schools hospitalized from food poisoning from school meals Public schools Greater Accra Region

Source: E Yeleliere, 2017

In addition to instances of food poising is the incidents of expired and unwholesome food products being imported into the country by cartels of unscrupulous businesses. In March 2022 alone, products worth GH₵294,211 from the principal suppliers to Fareast Mercantile were deemed to have been damaged and or expired. A business model involving Fareast Mercantile, one of Ghana’s biggest importers and wholesalers and a network of some ‘get-rich-quick’ business men who deal in expired products at a popular section of the Central Business District in Accra recently leaked and the police authorities were able to arrest only one person. This is a clear example of the way and manner people want to take advantage of the system to hurt, as it were, the health of Ghanaians.

Legal and Regulatory Systems in Ghana

In Ghana, there are laws and regulations governing the activities of importers, supermarket operators and fast-food operators and all operating in the Food Sector. There are several legal and regulatory systems in Ghana that guide the operation of the Food industry. The institutions involved in enforcing these legal regulations include the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), The Ghana Standards Authority (GSA), The Environmental Health and Sanitation Agency and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA). 

The FDA is the National Regulatory Body responsible for the regulation of food, drugs, food supplements, herbal and homeopathic medicines, veterinary medicines, cosmetics, medical devices, household chemical substances, tobacco and tobacco products, blood and blood products as well as the conduct of clinical trials protocols. The Public Health Act, 2012, Act 851 provides for the establishment of a Governing Board with the responsibility of ensuring the effective implementation of the functions of the Authority. The FDA’s legal mandate is found in Part 6 (Tobacco Control Measures), Part 7 (organisation and responsibilities of the FDA), and Part 8 (Clinical trials) of the Public Health Act, 2012 Act 851.

Ghana Standards Authority is an Agency of Government responsible for developing, publishing and promoting standards in the country. It does this through standardisation, metrology and conformity assessment activities. Some of these activities are testing, inspection and certification. These activities ensure that products or goods and services produced in Ghana, whether for local consumption or for export are safe, reliable and are of good quality.

The environmental Health and safety department/agency is a decentralized department of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District assemblies in Ghana. The purpose of the Environmental Health Department is to ensure the prevention of any hazard or negative impact the environment may have on man. The department is therefore to assess, correct, control and prevent those factors in the environment which can adversely affect the health of both present and future generations. 

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MOFA) is the lead agency and focal point of the Government of Ghana, responsible for developing and executing policies and strategies for the agriculture sector. The Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Department of MoFA was established in 1965 by an Act of Parliament: Prevention and Control of Pests and Diseases OF Plants Act, 307 now replaced by “Plants and Fertilizer Act, 2010 (Act 803). The PPRSD is the National Institution with the mandate and capacity to organize, regulate, implement and coordinate the plant protection services needed for the country in support of sustainable growth and development of Agriculture. The national plant protection policy is Integrated Pest Management, IPM (1992).

Challenges

However, all these legislative instruments and regulatory bodies have their own challenges that militate against the proper regulation of the food sector in Ghana. The key challenge that runs across all these institutions is low levels of government funding for regulatory activities. Added to this key challenge are the collusion of government officials with multinationals and the priorities of donor organizations in the country. The old aged adage (myth) in Ghana “African germs are not harmful” has also led to people not being conscious of the health impacts of what they consume. Other challenges include 1. Limited human technical capacity for food-borne disease surveillance, risk assessment, laboratory testing, regulatory enforcement and consumer/public education. 2. Weak monitoring at the borders 3. Fragmented data on the fundamental food safety issues 4. Lack of understanding of the socio-cultural factors and lack of evidence based approach to food safety interventions for sustainable improvements.

Conclusion

On 7 June 2021, Ghana joined the rest of the world in commemorating 2021 World Food Safety Day which aims to draw attention to food borne risks and encourage the practice of food safety standards to help prevent, detect and manage food borne diseases. And on June 20th this year (2022), the FDA launched the National Food Safety Policy. The policy is designed to build a resilient system that will ensure safe and appropriate food for consumers. It is also to address the overlaps and clarify the roles and responsibilities of stakeholder agencies along the food chain. Essentially this policy is a revision of the 2012 policy to address most of the challenges outlined above in the regulatory sector. At the launch of the policy the minister of health said “This policy will serve as a guideline and remind us that winning is a shared responsibility so that those who are tasked must work cooperatively with other agencies to make sure they deliver on their mandate.”

It is also the hope of all Ghanaians that this good policy does not lie and gather dust or bedevilled with the numerous implementation problems that such policies have been faced with in the past. The government as the key stakeholder should stand up to the task and pull all stakeholders along. All Ghanaians must also rise up to the challenge presented by the COVID 19 pandemic which made us more careful about our hygiene and food safety practices  and continue to work hard to promote food safety in Ghana. Civil Society Organizations, Think Tanks and others should intensify food safety education in the country to save lives. 

God bless our homeland Ghana and Make it great and strong in health and Safety

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