Unsustainable Food Systems Put Consumers at a Health Menace in Zambia

High in calories and low in nutrients, fast foods are a common meal option. Sadly, eating too much of it, can negatively affect one’s health. 
High in calories and low in nutrients, fast foods are a common meal option. Sadly, eating too much of it, can negatively affect one’s health. 

“HEALTH is in one’s hands”, the old adage goes. And so true, the solution to one’s health problems do not belong to the doctors or government institutions. As a matter of fact, it is our own responsibility. 

We are supposed to eat tasty and health foods from our kitchen. Amazingly, we have transformed our kitchen into a mini factory for manufacturing poisons for our own bodies. Over time, the bodies become poison bin thereby contributing to endless sicknesses, and sadly that leads to low lifespan. 

In Zambia, traditional foods were consumed throughout history before the modernization and industrialization of the food supply. The foods were not only free from additives, chemicals and many of the things we find in food today, but they were exceptionally nourishing. 

The Zambia Food-Based Dietary Guidelines establishes, “Evidence suggests most Zambians do not base their diets on diverse foods. The diet of most Zambians is monotonous, mostly dominated by maize-based foods such as Nshima, which makes up most of the dietary calories for most Zambian diets.” 

Furthermore, most Zambians prefer highly processed maize flour (breakfast meal), which is low in nutrient density as it just provides carbohydrates. The Nshima is mostly accompanied by poorly cooked vegetables which have lost their nutrients. The consumption of protein-rich foods, such as legumes, pulses, nuts and animal sourced foods, which are also rich in essential nutrients, are also quite low among Zambians.


“Consumers are at the mercy of variations in the global food market system. The current food system is based on transporting food over long distances and therefore, consumers are at the mercy of predicaments that occur in the global fuel and other energy systems”, a natural farmer, as well as a passionate volunteer at UBUNTU Learning Hub, Annie Chikanji notes, “Consumers are also prone to health crisis caused by mass consumption of processed foods with chemical additives.” 

Although fast foods are a common meal options and provide very high calories, they are low in nutrients. Consequently, eating too much of it has potential to affect our health. 

Swinging through the drive or hopping into our favourite fast food restaurant, may happen more often than some of us would like to admit. While an occasional fast food meal won’t hurt, a habit of eating out could be doing a number of injustices to our health. 

The Naturopath Doctor, John Mubanga reveals, “Most fast food, including drinks, is loaded with carbohydrates with little to no fiber. When your digestive system breaks down these foods, the carbs are released as glucose (sugar) into your bloodstream. As a result, your blood sugar increases.”

Dr. John Mubanga furthermore said, “Your pancreas responds to the surge in glucose by releasing insulin. Insulin transports sugar throughout your body to cells that need it for energy. As your body uses or stores the sugar, your blood sugar returns to normal.”

The Naturopath Doctor, John Mubanga explains, “This blood sugar process is highly regulated by your body. As long as you’re healthy, your organs can usually handle these sugar spikes. But frequently eating high amounts of carbs can lead to repeated spikes in your blood sugar. Over time, these insulin spikes may cause your body’s normal insulin response to hesitate. This increases your risk of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.”

There is increasing evidence that the industrial food system, dependent on mono-crops and high levels of pesticide, irrigated water and synthetic fertilizer use, while often producing a flood of low quality food in the shopping malls or the fast food outlets, and leaving farmers poorer and the consumers malnourished. 

Lundazi District Health Director in Zambia, Dr. Davie Wadula Zulu observes that there are no finished healthy food products which are readily available on the market to compete with supermarkets; are not there for people to access. This makes people with busy schedules resort to fast food which are is convenient and tasty though it’s prepared with low nourishing or unhealthy ingredients. 

Dr. Davie Wadula Zulu said, “In Lundazi District, Eastern province of Zambia, they are a lot of people who have high blood pressure; over 400 plus have been diagnosed with diabetes. We are having 200 new cases of diabetes in a year, which is a huge increase for a relatively growing district, like Lundazi. We are really struggling with Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs).” 

Dr. Davie Wadula Zulu added, “The policies we can put in place should ensure that every food that is sold on the market is of high quality. I know, we can’t isolate ourselves, this is a global society, but we need to have policies that can protect our people, guidelines, and messages that will help our people to eat healthy food.”

The problems surrounding the food systems persist, due to a number of factors, among them: the food consumers have little or no knowledge on their rights, as this has contributed to people consuming the food stuffs which are expired, not properly labeled, with no or inadequate nutritional information. This puts the food consumers in a dilemma when making a choice around which product, based on their healthy eating behaviours. 

The food labels describe the food content food, and are intended to guide the consumer in food selection. The nutrition information provided must be in consistency with legal requirements and dietary recommendations. Information provided on labels should be truthful, in a language that is early understood and not to mislead the food consumers. 

The fast food chain stores, do not add value to the food producers themselves; instead, they are designed to extract commercial profit from the food consumers. A justification of ripping huge profits from the already vulnerable food consumers is based on a series of scams experienced, were the investigations have lifted the lid on a widespread practice of unlawfully altering, replacing and removing food labels by some food chain stores.

The multinational food chain companies use persuasive marketing approaches of their products, to hook the nervous food consumers, without paying much attention on the nutritional food value and even the expiry dates of these food stuffs displayed on the shelves. 

In this context, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), with a mandate as far as food is concerned extends to food safety, product labeling and aspects of misrepresentations either in advertising or content as provided for under Section 47, 50 and Section 52 of the Act, respectively, conducts vigorous activities to protect the consumer’s rights.

For example, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), under the Directorate of Consumer Protection and a team of inspectors from different Local Government Authorities, seized various goods worth millions of Kwacha in many swiftly joint inspections.

In other recent operations, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), and MoH seized additional 2,500 bottles of the energy drinks from a warehouse allegedly belonging to a Chipata Businessman Mr. Gulam Patel. The energy drinks were further disposed and destroyed by Chipata City Council (CCC) in the presence of its two other partners.

Rainford Mutabi, the Public Relations Officer at Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) reveals, “Selling or offering for sale expired or products not fit for purpose is against the Competition and Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) No. 24 of 2010 as well as the Food Safety Act No. 7 of 2019.”

And in recent update on the notice to the public on the product recall of Appletiser made available in a press release by Meti Demissie Disasa, the Registrar of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Competition Commission on 11 November 2022, indicates  that the Common COMESA (the “Commission”) pursuant to Article 33 of the COMESA Competition Regulations, 2004 (‘the Regulations’) issued a Compulsory Recall to Coca-Cola South Africa (CCSA) requiring them to remove from the Common Market the recalled Appletiser Apple Juice batches that contained high levels of patulin.

The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA)’s Competition Commission (CCC) informed the general public to avoid the purchase and consumption of the some affected batches of the Appletiser Apple Juice drinks suspected to contain Mycotoxin (Patulin) above the permitted limit of 50 parts per billion (50 ppd) for foodstuffs.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Putulin is a form of Mycotoxin which when consumed in high levels causes nausea, gastrointestinal disturbances and vomiting.

Meti Demissie Disasa, the Registrar of COMESA’s Competition Commission said that the public was informed that the Commission engaged Coca-Cola South Africa (CCSA) Company, to establish the progress made on recalling the products from the affected markets. 

“Coca-Cola South Africa (CCSA) has informed the Commission that all the affected products were removed from the shelves in the Common Market; some of the products have already been destroyed while others are yet to be destroyed pending approval by the local authorities,” Meti Demissie Disasa, the Registrar of COMESA Competition Commission further revealed.

They recalled followed quality tests that identified that some of the batches of Appletiser Apple Juice contained patulin levels higher than the legal threshold of 50 parts per billion (microgram/kg). The recalled products could be identified by looking at the ‘Best Before’ date which was stamped at the bottom or top of the products.

The warning came after Coca-Cola South Africa (CCSA) Company; the manufacturers of Appletiser initiated a voluntary recall on or around 23rd September 2022 of some batches of Appletiser Apple Juice drinks from the market in South Africa only, whereas it was established that Appletiser is imported and distributed into the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), no such recall was announced.

Besides, the Zambia Food Safety Act 1990 and regulations made under it makes it an offence for anyone to sell or process food for sale which is harmful to health. They also place an obligation on businesses to ensure that their activities are carried out in a hygienic way. 

The Food Safety Act 1990 provides for the protection of the public against health hazards and fraud in the manufacture, sale and use of food; provide for a streamlined process for regulatory clearances for regulatory health requirements for food premises.

Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) advices, “As a consumer, you are at liberty to choose products and services providers of your choice, you shouldn’t be forced to use products or services you don’t want. Furthermore, the onus to research what product or service providers, best suits and meet your needs is on you.”

“My Food can be African, but not organically grown. UBUNTU Learning Hub then is filling in the gap by growing African Food in a natural way, as such: ‘Healthy soil, healthy people and no farmer no food,’ Annie Chikanji, also a volunteer at UBUNTU Learning Hub adds. 

The African Proverb on Food abridges it all, “Your food is supposed to be your medicine and your medicine is supposed to be your food.” Consequently, prepare your food at home, avoid refined foods replace them with organic African foods. Start your own garden and use organic fertilizer and pesticides. When people include traditional foods in their eating habits, they tend to consume more nutrients and less calories as well as a strengthened cultural capacity and overall well-being. 

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