Reports of plastic rice and oil mixed with an industrial chemical, Sudan IV are pointing to a serious problem.
It is now becoming clear that we may need to exercise more care regarding what we consume.
Fake food and what is known as food fraud is exploding on a global level, with companies deliberately misleading consumers and retailers using harmful additives to increase their profits.
Quartz Africa reports that, in February, Nahima and Yahaya, two 14-year-olds, died after eating biscuits at a classmate’s party, on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
Numerous other children were also hospitalised.
There have been reports of processed foods that seem to decompose long before their expiry dates.
A former employee at one of Nigeria’s biggest food companies has reported seeing milk powder with no animal protein contained within.
After the plastic rice videos were released, many Nigerians made videos of their own showing how substances sold as rice combusted like industrial grade plastic when set ablaze.
WHile the authenticity of these claims have not been verified by any major authority, the incidence and spread of the reports suggests something is afoot.
The Chairman of Erisco Foods, a local food packaging company, has accused his peers of importing pastes of starch, drum and colouring from China as tomato paste.
Sudan IV, a lipid used in industrial chemistry, has been reportedly found, mixed in with corn powder, sold as chilli powder.
The United States’ Grocery Manufacturers Association claims that an estimated 10% of all commercially sold food products are subjects of food fraud, a practice that is said to cost the global food industry between 10 to 15 billion dollars.
However, this new global wave of food fraud is already at great magnitudes in countries like Tanzania, where a local union estimates that over 50% of all goods, including food, drugs and construction materials, imported into the country are fake.
Weak borders and lax legal structures mean Nigeria, and the majority of African countries are generally more prone to the importation of illegal and substandard food products than most.
While the use of social media to raise awareness on fake food has bridged a gap, this new wave of food fraud points fingers at the capacity of the requisite institutions to prevent mishaps, especially as many of the additives used in these fake food substances put consumers at increased risk of cancer.
For decades, the smuggling of rice and frozen poultry from Cotonou in the Benin Republic has supported an economy of its own and proved important in meeting the seemingly insatiable needs of Lagos, the country’s most populous city and other states.
As most of the country lives below or scarily close to the “one dollar a day” line that sets poverty apart from just getting by, getting fed is not treated as a luxury in these parts.
Yet, despite promising to increase local production of food to match its incessant bans on importation of food products, the Nigerian government has failed, leaving an underserved population with little purchasing power and local retailers and distributors who cannot meet their customers’ demands.
It partly explains why a substance like plastic rice would make its way into Nigeria where a slightly cheaper alternative is very quickly snapped up.
Because most of these foods do not meet any standards, there’s no testing, and as such, no data on the impact of food fraud on the people who actually purchase and consume these substances.
For the most part, consumers would do well to be very alert in purchasing and consuming food substances.
Once the fake food is detected, they must alert others and provide information to law enforcement bodies to ensure the source is quickly nicked.
The government and its institutions must also do more to impose and execute stringent sanctions on the importation, production and sale of food within the country.
Nigerians are not unfamiliar with fake foods but if we prepare enough, we can avoid the casualties that ignorance and oversight will inevitably bring.