Food Safety: Politicking policies

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HOW safe is the food you consume? Food contamination had killed many families aside creating untold pains and suffering in many lives. From the farm-gate to the table, food safety is becoming a great concern to stakeholders. The just reversed European Union Ban of Nigerians food produce became eye opener to unsafe unhealthy foods produce in the country.

A Nigerian food nutritionist based in South Africa, Ms Nkechi Ijoma prays the EU reversed ban would teach Nigeria food stakeholders’ lesson not only to work on making export food produce safe but above all to make sure food consume locally are safe. Ijoma argued that corrupt practices had traded the food policies for mediocrity. Where officials for their pocket sake truncates the health of millions and undermine the policies enacted to move the food produce in the country forward. From the Export regulatory bodies to the farmers, corruptions had broken the strength of the most healthy food produce in the world. Nigeria food produce still ranks top in the world amongst the natural food produce mostly free from inorganic impediment.

Ogbeh laments the current food safety state
Agricultural polices implementation was one of the outcry of the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh at a workshop organised by the Federal Ministry of Health in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Abuja recently.

The gathering was a stakeholder’s workshop to look at the Draft Documents in support of the Implementation of the National Policy on Food Safety and its implementation strategy.

It is another road map the minister must see to it implementation if the nation will ever achieve its desire change agenda in a sector that is becoming the centre economic stay an economist says. Ogbeh said agreed that the nation cannot meet the future food requirements of her people sustainably unless the stakeholders begin to take urgent steps to put in place the right policies and strategies. The policies is not just to ensure that Nigerians are not only properly fed but also to have more than enough food items to eat and stores for export to shores up our revenue.

The minister pointed out that it was important for the country to address the scourge of new disease arising from unsafe food which is gradually becoming rampant in the country, adding that good and healthy diets from safe foods are nourishing to the body and unsafe foods are like poisons to the body, causing unimaginably damage to our system.

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Before now the Nigeria Custom Services (NCS) and the National Agency For Drug and Food Administration Control (NAFDAC) had several times destroy unsafe foods. Ogbeh complained during his presentation that Nigerians have serious challenge in the food we eat. Every week, you see people suffering from kidney and liver problems waiting to be rush to India at a very high cost.

Years back, beans coming into the Southern Market had caused many death and several hospitalized, as several Nigerian from the Southern part had thought that the Northerners want to kill them with food poisoning, unknown to them that the preservative chemicals were over-used. More recently still in the in some parts of northern states, fish sprayed with pesticides in order to keep the fish away from flies were smoked and put to the Market that almost wrecked fish farms and processing from that zone.

The Agric Boss embittered reiterated that grains packed in poly bags causing aflatoxin and cocitogenic to the system and imported chickens pumped with formaldehyde and other dangerous chemicals are still been consumed daily in Nigeria. The minister said that it was a good thing that the Federal ministry of Health is partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture to address these challenges fast. He prays as he expects that the FMARD with the ministry of health and relevant agencies will continue to build on this collaboration and partnership in order to ensure that our people can continue to live healthy through consumption of safe food.

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Stakeholders’ calls for urgent action, void of politicking
Stakeholders drafting the bill on national policy on food safety have called on the National Assembly to ensure urgent passage of the bill and quit politicizing it. The Akwa Ibom State Assistant Director in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr Peter Francis, said the bill was capable of achieving lasting solutions to issues concerning food safety, adding that the programme is in the right direction in the area of regulating issue that has to do with food safety in the country.

Francis envisaged that by the time the food safety bill is finally passed, the issue of conflicts and safety would have been settled and the Nigeria populace would be better off.

He stressed that farmers will probably have more for their effort on the food they produce because they will have the opportunity that the food they produce are not only wholesome but also safe for human consumption,” he said.

Another stakeholders from UNIDO, a consultant on technical regulation, Mrs Abimbola Uzomah, pointed out that the bill would start from the farm to the processors, production, distribution and finally to the table, emphasizing the total outlook of the bill, said that, when we talk of safety, we are not looking at the different section now; everybody will benefit because when the food is safe, you are healthy.

Uzomah noted that a lot of new diseases are spreading on a daily basis and I don’t know if it is from the unsafe food or water we consume or chemical used to process the food. She said the bill which will be encompassing will involve all the food safety and the regulatory agencies to make sure that food import and export is tested and satisfied for human consumption.

Meanwhile, Mrs Adeyinka Akinbinu of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, appraised that the workshop was coming at the right time as it would spell out various functions for different parastatals, adding that the workshop is going to help the country to reduce waste on functions that overlap in various MDAs like NAFDAC and Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to conform to international standard.

Akinbinu explained that if roles and responsibilities are spell out in the draft bill and the reform function, every MDAs will know their work; so that the little budget they are collecting will be channelled properly.

More so, a Food Scientist and Consultant with the FAO and UNIDO on Food Safety, Mr John Funsho, said that FAO has the programme running for Nigeria to strengthen food safety through institutional framework. He prays that at the end of the day, the stakeholders will be able to change the regulatory framework and the institutional framework because the entire system would be better operated.

Funsho noted that the structure we have today has a lot of imbalance and the imbalance reduces the effectiveness of food safety. He explained further that if we can reduce the imbalance, the efficiency will improve, and to remove the imbalance there is the need for restructuring of the system. This imbalance, policy experts says, has to be dealt by total avoidance of politicking the food polices.

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To modernise the Nigerian food safety regulatory framework
On the health angle, the Minister of Environment, Mrs Amina Mohammed advocates preventive measures in the promotion of public health of the Nigeria citizens, which her ministry was committed to¸ of which decry the spate of food borne diseases and poisoning in the country which is on the increase.

Mohammed looked beyond the food itself and noted the ministry of environment is committed to strengthening environmental sanitation services, which in itself will impact positively on food safety and public health. She noted that as a formidable stakeholder in the quest to achieve a safe system in our food chain from farm to table, the Ministry will continue to strive hard. She promised to work with other relevant stakeholders to achieve our ultimate goal of food safety in the Country.

The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, delivering a paper recently titled “Proposals of Legal and Institutional Reform of the Food Safety System in Nigeria” narrated the Federal Government stand to continue to ensure that only wholesome food products were traded and consumed within the country.

Adewole who reiterated that the Federal Government placed great importance on food safety, noted that everyone needed safe and nutritious food every day to survive. He said the first goal of food policy was to modernise the Nigerian food safety regulatory framework in line with international best practices.

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The Prof agreed that Food Safety needs a joint national effort since the foods Nigerian eat are mostly farmed and processed thousands of miles across State and National borders. He added that it is therefore essential that government MDAs at the National and State levels need to work with the private sector to ascertain the safety of food from farm to table.

The Minister said that the goal, with the support from the FAO, under the supervision of the National Food Safety Management Committee (NFSMC) has been implemented to the point of production of its draft documents. However, he said that the country still has lots of grounds to cover before getting to the point where we can fully benefit from this draft food safety bill and the proposed institutional reforms.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s Representative in Nigeria, Ms Louise Setshwaelo, had advocated that the robust framework would turn institutions around to encourage agricultural production in the country.

Setshwaelo stressed that since the commencement of the implementing this programme in 2015, some progress in implementing the activities scheduled had been made. She explain that the three studies carried out early in 2015 were reviewed food safety legislation in Nigeria, control institutions and inspection capacities, practices and procedures to provide evidence needed to inform the processes. She further narrated that the studies were to identify gaps and priorities areas in capacity building, updating of the legislation and institutional structures.

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