Ensuring consumer safety from farm to dining

From the process of food production to its consumption, there are risks. ONYEKORMAKA ASABOR writes on how the risks can be minimised

From the farm to the dining table, there are chances for food.to be tainted. Therefore, keeping food safe as it travels along the agriculture value chain is convoluted. Keeping food safe is becoming even more of a challenge in the country. As the volume of trade expands, so too, do the chances of transmitting pathogens.

Early farmers provided their communities with food, and little changed in their practices for millennia. The Industrial Age, however, brought about fundamental changes in agriculture, including the introduction of pesticides and fertilisers. These changes have agricultural and economic benefits. However, they also have caused environmental problems and other  threats to human health. Thus, when deciding whether to use chemicals on the farm, it is important to first consider the pros and cons.


NAFDAC warns against use Of chemicals on n foods

It is probably against this backdrop that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, in April 2021, warned Nigerians against the use of chemicals and additives in enhancing the taste of food and drinks.

The Director-General of NAFDAC, Prof Mojisola Adeyeye, gave the warning in a statement signed by the agency’s Resident Media Consultant, Sayo Akintola.

The NAFDAC boss informed that preliminary investigations carried out into an incident of food poisoning in Kano State was caused by the use of unwholesome additives and chemicals in food products.

She recalled that three people died after ingesting such dangerous chemicals, and that findings had been submitted to the Kano government.

Regretting the fatalities, Adeyeye noted that many people’s health had been compromised.

“It is heart-warming to note that all the merchants of the deadly chemicals and additives have been apprehended while investigation continues.

On the need to deepen the protection of consumers along agriculture value chain, Desmond Iweka, asserted that the use of chemicals in the form of fertilisers and pesticides at the stage of planting had being a challenge to consumers in the agro sector of the economy.

He said, “Because consumer protection agencies are far from the farm, tracking food throughout the supply chain is more complex now. Supply chain operators must focus on safety during the planting and processing of food, as well as management, preservation and transportation networks. The farm to table progression places a large amount of focus on contamination prevention and maintenance of quality. Every stage of the food supply chain is highly regulated by government agencies such as NAFDAC.”

NAFDAC was established by Decree 15 of 1993, and amended as the NAFDAC Act of 2004. The act mandates the agency to regulate and control the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution, advertisement, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, packaged water, chemicals and detergents (collectively known as regulated products). The agency was officially established in October 1992.


Consumers’ right To safe food

According to Food and Agriculture Organisation, consumers have a right to expect that the foods they purchase and consume will be safe and of high quality. “They have a right to voice their opinions about the food control procedures, standards and activities that governments and industry use to ascertain that the food supply has these characteristics. While consumers, governments and others play important part in ensuring food safety and quality, in free market economy, the ultimate responsibility for investing the physical and managerial resources necessary for implementing appropriate controls lies with the food industry.”

The agency explained that, in the broadest sense, the food industry encompasses all those involved in growing, processing, manufacturing or distributing food, from the farm to retail shops and restaurants.

It added that private enterprise recognises that its success, measured in terms of profitability, depended completely on consumers’ satisfaction. This is reflected in their continuous purchase of the products. Food manufacturers and marketers thus have an investment in their product identities (brand names) that they naturally wish to protect. It is in their interest, therefore, to establish and administer the controls that ensure that their products meet consumer expectations of safety and quality.


Agencies and consumer protection

Edward Ighiria, a civil servant and part-time farmer, urged consumer-related agencies to intensify efforts towards protecting consumers from food processing stage and food packaging stage as they collectively play a primary role in keeping Nigeria food supply among the safest in the world.

According to Ighiria, packaging maintains the benefits of food processing, enabling foods to travel safely to long distances to the consumer. He added that packaging technology must balance food protection with other issues, including energy and material costs, heightened social and environmental consciousness, and strict regulation on pollutants and disposal of municipal solid waste.

On the need to deepen consumer protection along the agriculture value chain, he said incidences abound to show that agro foods were not always safe for consumption, starting from the point of harvest to the dining table.

Citing the continued rejection of Nigeria’s food exports in foreign countries, he said, “Foreign governments have better equipment to ascertain food quality.”

In October 2017, former Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh, publicly lamented rejection of Nigerian yams exported to the United States of America. At the time, Nigeria was in the middle of an economic recession, and the Muhammadu Buhari government was anxious to diversify the economy to reduce dependence on oil. Thus, shipments of yams were sent to the U.S., the United Kingdom and China, and many of them were rejected.

Ighiria queried, “What if such foods were meant for local consumption?”    

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