By Franklin Cudjoe
I have read a publication on Myjoyonline titled “Don’t buy palm oil on the market- FDA Warns” and I wanted to draw the public’s attention to some important matters as far as the publication and the palm oil industry is concerned.
The story published on October 26, 2015 stated in part “The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) is warning against the consumption of palm oil sold on the market across the country. The Authority has currently heightened its market surveillance after discovering oil samples picked from ten markets in the Greater Accra Region contained highly dangerous textile dye which causes cancer. The FDA in a statement said it randomly sampled 50 palm oil.”
It continued “The results showed that 98% of the palm oil tested positive to Sudan IV dye. Following up, the FDA on Tuesday, 20th October, 2015 in collaboration with the Narcotics Division of the Ghana Police Service apprehended some dealers suspected to be involved in this practice and confiscated the products, which were also analysed and found to contain Sudan III and Sudan IV dyes, leading to the arrest of 22 market women and a driver.”
Finally, according to the FDA, the markets the unwholesome palm oil were found are: “Mallam market, MallamAtta market, Dome market, Dansoman market, Agbogbloshie market, Kaneshie market, Tema community 1 market, Ashaiman market, Madina market and Makola No.2 market.”
Much as I commend the FDA for being alert, I want clarification on a few questions.
How long have they been conducting this market surveillance? How widespread is the adulterous act across the country given only “50 palm oil” was sampled in Accra? Were other markets (shops, malls etc) apart from the 10 community markets also sampled? Do these sampled palm oil include those from well established plantations and processing companies in the country? Is the FDA suggesting that simply because we may have a certain unwholesome malaria drug on the market, then we should desist from purchasing all malaria drugs across the country? Better still, would the FDA be asking alcohol lovers to desist from drinking their beers and Guinnesses simply because there is an increase in the advertisement of unwholesome alcohol?
Well, the point I’m making really is all palm oil on the market is not sourced from one producer. So, before the FDA comes out with such alarmist announcements, they should have done extra work to identity the sources of this unwholesome product, go further to list trusted and well organised plantations and processing companies whose products consumers can rely on in the mean time so as not destroy the market for wholesome palm oil.
As you may be aware, negative media campaigns in Europe and other parts of the West are undermining the image of palm oil and such inconclusive findings can further damage the industry. This threatens the success of Africa’s palm oil renaissance. Media and lobbying campaigns based primarily on rumours and innuendo are aiming to portray palm oil in a negative light. These rumours include that palm oil causes deforestation and harms orang-utans. The truth is that forest cover in African countries is both very high and stable; and I can assure you that there are not, nor have there ever been any orang-utans in Africa.
Take for example, Carrefour, which stopped using palm oil in its chips in favor of more costly and less productive sunflower oil or Supermarch U,which has stated that by 2015 all of its products will be either palm oil-free or RSPO certified, a certification scheme that is unaffordable for Ghana’s small farmers. Similarly, since 2010, Casino Group has simply refused to use palm oil in food products on the basis of unconfirmed health grounds even though research confirms that palm oil is as healthy as olive oil, and fortified with nutrients like vitamins A and E.
Palm oil provides a major source of employment and revenue for the Ghanaian people, with 30,000 farmers engaged in the industry and private small scale farmers accounting for 80 percent of oil palm currently being cultivated. The Ghanaian government in 2012 recognized the important role palm oil plays in the economy, investing more than $3 million in the industry as of 2010, and earlier in 2012, launched an Oil Palm Development Master Plan, outlining its plans to boost the nation’s competitiveness in the global vegetable oil markets over the next 15 years.
This Development Master Plan takes note of the unmet demand for vegetable oil both domestically and in the region and reflects not only our commitment to oil palm development, but also the growing trend throughout West Africa for supporting the development of domestic agriculture sectors for the dual purpose of achieving food security and increasing prosperity.
Please we should all be minded that Palm oil has been described as a miracle crop – it is the world’s most efficient oilseed, using less land that any other alternatives. Palm oil has 10 times the yield efficiency of some competitor oils. It is also a perennial crop, meaning that one planting will last for 25 years. This provides critical long-term stability and certainty for African small farmers. Palm oil is 100% free of trans fats, and has no GMO content. These attributes must be taken into consideration when dealing with miscreants who, like all other products will produce counterfeits. Caution is the keyword.
Franklin Cudjoe is Founding President and CEO of IMANI, a leading think tank in Africa.