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Nigeria’s Food Safety Problem , the way forward

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Debbie One of the best parts of visiting Nigeria is the opportunity to sample cherished organically produced and prepared local meals. It means that many restaurants and food joints are visited for this purpose ? of course the resultant effect is the weight gain there for everyone to know I have just been to Nigeria!However, recent news coming out of Nigeria about food safety now makes this cherished pastime a thing of the past. ?In the space of a few weeks, there were reports of a very popular restaurant in Lagos being raided by food inspectors where maggots-infested foods of all sorts were discovered. This is so shocking and I cannot get the image out of my head. As if this was not enough, the global media carried a story of a restaurant in Anambra State found to serve human meat. While this story was later found to be untrue, the damage had of course already been done.This last week, celebrants at a wedding in Katsina were said to have fallen sick and died after eating food served at the event. A town in Ondo State was in the news a couple of weeks past due to people dying mysteriously. It was later found that they had consumed toxic, locally prepared drink.In India, the whole media is agog with news of the banning of Maggi Noodles ? the country?s most popular brand of instant noodles. The products have been found to contain toxic chemicals ? making them unfit for human consumption. To quote the Nigerian Vanguard Newspaper of 5 June 2015: ?India?s main food safety regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India said laboratory tests had found overwhelming evidence that the instant noodles are ?unsafe and hazardous? for human consumption? and that ?five Indian States have temporarily banned Maggi Noodles for unsafe levels of lead.? ?The agency said that the tests ?also detected controversial chemical Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer?. ??I read the above and other reviews of the Maggi Noodles saga and my thoughts went instantly to Indomie Instant Noodles ? the most popular brand of noodles in Nigeria. I am left with deep concerns.When was the last time Indomie Noodles factories in Ota, Kaduna and Port-Harcourt went through a rigorous quality control test? When was Indomie Noodles itself last tested for safety? How about the other smaller noodles companies ? are they regularly inspected? What exactly is in a packet of instant noodles made in Nigeria? I was curious to find out so I checked the website of Dufil Prima Foods ? the makers of Indomie Noodles to get some idea of what is in their product ? nothing – although the company also has a flour mill which I expect produces the flour used in their noodles. Aside this, there is no breakdown of what your average packet of Indomie Noodles is nutritionally consisted of.Without a doubt, many if not most Nigerians love Indomie noodles. The brand has about 75% of the Nigerian noodle market share and has done so since 1996. ?Prior to that, it was the sole brand of noodles in Nigeria so it had 100% market share. Indomie Noodles and other brands have now become a staple of the Nigerian nutritional life. Some families have come to rely on it as a quick and hassle-free way of feeding their children. It is cheap and easy to prepare ? and for whatever reason, children love it.So what is wrong with instant noodles? Ordinarily, noodles are made from wheat but in many countries where these products have been tested and found to be deficient, there are other very toxic materials used. According to the websitehttp://www.mercola.com/, In June 2012, the Korean Food and Drug Administration (KDFA) found a cancer causing substance called Benzopyrene in six brands of noodles made by a local company. Although KFDA said the amounts were too small to be harmful, the company itself identified batches of noodles with a problem, leading to a product recall.?A key chemical used in noodles is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a flavour enhancer. It is one of the chemicals found in Maggi Noodles in India, which has now been banned. There are many debates about the safety of this chemical in food. The website http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/09/03/eating-instant-noodles.aspx says that: ?MSG?is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your nerve cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain dysfunction and damage to varying degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and more.? In short, the MSG flavour enhancer in instant noodles is potentially very harmful to your health.Generally, noodles have very little or no nutritional value. That is probably the real danger of this processed food. There is nothing at all in it to aid a child?s healthy growth. Parents who give their children noodles on a regular basis are risking their children?s health and wellbeing.Frankly speaking when I was growing up in Nigeria, there was nothing like instant noodles. We all ate rich, organic locally produced food that made us all healthy and strong. But now the Nigerian market is awashed with all sorts of low quality processed food from all sorts of countries. Many of these products imported into Nigeria will not pass routine safety tests in their countries of origin. With an opportunity for expansion, these products are now being produced in Nigeria itself. They are consumed willy-nilly by Nigerians and it seems very few people think about what is actually in them and the risks this may cause to their health. Instant Noodles, as far as I am concerned is not food. No parent should give to their child and I would appeal to well meaning parents to stop doing so immediately.So what is the role of NAFDAC in all of this? My charity AFRUCA UK has written to the agency asking it to conduct an immediate inspection of companies making instant noodles and their factories, and conduct a rigorous testing of all instant noodle products made in, or brought into Nigeria in the light of recent events in India. It is important that this issue is taken very seriously because of the millions of lives at stake. If any company is found to be feeding Nigerian children with toxic products, they should be banned from operating in the country and be made to face the full wrath of the law.It is about time Nigerians take seriously the quality of food they consume. By doing so, you might just be saving yourself and your family a lifetime of grief and avoidable health problems.Debbie Ariyo OBE is Chief Executive of AFRUCA UK, an organisation promoting the rights and welfare of African children (www.afruca.org), and a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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