The saddening reports of adulterated food items, especially drinks being manufactured here in Nigeria keep coming in at alarming rate. For instance, in November 2015, one Chukwudi Obikem was arrested by the Assistant Commissioner of Police, ACP, Suleiman Dogo at Oke Arin Market, Lagos Island for the manufacture of adulterated Remi Martins, Jack Daniels, Hennessey and Red Label drinks.
Subsequently, on April 8, 2017, the National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) raided the Ogbaru relief market, near Onitsha and arrested eight persons over their alleged involvement in the production of fake alcoholic drinks. One of the suspects was found to be a nursing mother! The agency also sealed three shops in the market, confiscating adulterated drinks and production materials worth millions of Naira. Some registered drinks, being adulterated in the market included J&W, Baron Romero, Lord's dry gin, Seaman Schnapps, Carlo Rossi, Red Label, Hennessy, McDowell's and Remy Martins.
Addressing newsmen after the raid, Mr. Waheed Agboola, Assistant Director, Enforcement and Investigation Directorate of NAFDAC in Lagos, expressed displeasure over the unhygienic production sites."Factories are not supposed to be cited in markets; the factories are in unhygienic environment and we even saw maggots and cockroaches. These fake products are sold within the market and it is difficult to differentiate between the original and fake products," Agboola said. Even after arrests were made, the criminal issue has persisted. The recent instance took place on April 3, 2018, as the Lagos State Police Command uncovered an illegal wine factory operated by a 55-year-old man at Mushin area of the state. The state's Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, told newsmen in Lagos that the illegal wine factory was discovered based on credible intelligence report.
"Following the information, some policemen stormed Ojuwoye Market on March 30, with a Search Warrant and arrested the suspect. We discovered various brands of wines and hot drinks suspected to be adulterated," he said. He said that empty wine bottles and labelled bottle corks of different types of wine and hot drinks were also recovered. The prime suspect, however, claimed that, "I have my own brand which I produce when I had my factory in Nnewi, Anambra State." But that excuse is not tenable. The production and sale of adulterated food items are in gross violation of Sections 409 and 158(a) of the criminal code of Lagos State, 2011. According to Agboola, fake products are largely responsible for the increase in people having liver and kidney problems. "The unwholesome practice must have been taking place for years because we saw receipts, dated as far back as 2006, and nobody reported until recently," he lamented.
We should be worried not just because of the many yet to be discovered manufacturers of adulterated drinks but their harmful effects on human health. According to an Indian consultant colorectal surgeon at Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, Dr. Venkatesh Munikrishnan, "food adulteration is the addition or removal of any substances to or from food, so that the natural composition and quality is affected. Adulterated food is impure, unsafe and not wholesome. Food can be adulterated intentionally and accidentally. Unintentional adulteration is a result of ignorance or the lack of facilities to maintain food quality. This may be caused by spillover effect from pesticides and fertilisers. Inappropriate food handling and packaging methods can also result in adulteration." It does not take rocket science to know that intentional food adulteration is usually done for financial gain. The most common form of intentional adulteration is colour adulteration. Some examples of intentional adulteration are addition of water to liquid milk, extraneous matter to ground spices, or the removal or substitution of milk solids from the natural product.
On the other hand, natural adulteration occurs due to the presence of certain chemicals, organic compounds or radicals naturally occurring in foods which are injurious to health and are not added to the foods intentionally or unintentionally. Some of the examples are toxic varieties of pulses, mushrooms, green and other vegetables, fish and seafoods. There claims that about 5,000 species of marine fish are known to be poisonous and many of these are among edible varieties. The increasing worry over the proliferation of adulterated food items is on their hazards to human health. For instance, when mineral oil is added to edible oil and fats it can cause cancers. Lead chromate added to turmeric powder and spices can cause anaemia, paralysis, brain damage and abortions. Lead added to water, natural and processed food can lead to lead poisoning. Lead poisoning causes foot drop, insomnia, constipation, anaemia, and mental retardation.
On its part, cobalt added to water and liquors can cause cardiac damage. Copper, tin and zinc can cause colic, vomiting and diarrhoea. Mercury in mercury fungicide-treated grains or mercury contaminated fish can cause brain damage, paralysis and death.
On the issue of colours, non-permitted colour or permitted food colour like metanil yellow, beyond the safe limit in coloured food can cause allergies, hyperactivity, liver damage, infertility, anaemia, cancer and birth defects.
As experts have explained the best way to avoid these health problems is through prevention. We can begin by taking interest in the place from where we buy our food ingredients. We also need to check if the premises are kept clean with no infestations and if the packaging is intact, as also the expiry date and the source of the product. It is also necessary to talk regularly to the local community to check if people are falling sick after eating in a particular restaurant or food ingredients bought from a particular retailer.
According to Munikrishnan, we need to remember that contamination could happen in very small amounts over a period of time and it might be impossible to detect or too late to intervene. So it is prudent that every one of us takes special interest in this subject and educate our families, friends and colleagues about this menace. The challenge before Nigerians, is to collaborate with NAFDAC by whistle blowing on contaminated food item because we are all consumers of sundry food items. The police should always be ready to work with relevant agencies in its investigation. As Mr. Hassan Tanko, Chief Regulatory Officer, Enforcement and Investigation Directorate of the agency in Lagos, has rightly suggested, there is need for collaboration between the market leadership and the agency, to stem counterfeiting.
Food adulteration is an evil monster we must all work against to safeguard our health.