In late February, 14-year-olds Nahima and Yayaya, died after eating tainted biscuits at a classmate’s birthday celebration in their school, located just outside Nigeria’s capital Abuja. Several other children in their class were hospitalized. Panic and threats from angry parents forced a temporary school closure, but to date, there have been no efforts to investigate the root causes nor track or shut down the responsible company.

This tragic incidence is part of a global explosion of food fraud, when companies purposely mislead the public about products. According to the United States’ Grocery Manufacturers Association, food fraud affects approximately 10 percent of all commercially sold food products and costs the global food industry between $10 billion and $15 billion annually.

Data focused on the African continent is not as readily available, but what exists is alarming. Recent research by the Confederation of Tanzania Industries estimates that over 50% of all goods, including food, drugs and construction materials, imported into Tanzania are fake. Anecdotal evidence suggests that rates could be between 10% and 50%, depending on the food category and the country.

As an agro-processor and co-founder of Nigeria’s AACE Foods and Sahel Capital, I have observed first-hand the magnitude of the food fraud crises and how supermarket shelves and open-air market stalls are too often stocked with counterfeit products. In Nigeria there is milk powder with no animal protein. In Kenya there is vegetable oil made of recycled oil unfit for human consumption.

In Ghana, the palm oil is laced with a food coloring called Sudan IV which is widely recognized as a carcinogen. In Uganda, formalin —an embalming agent—is used to keep meat and fish free from flies and seemingly fresh for days. Across Africa, there are incidences of plastic rice or nothing more than discarded rice chaff, packaged as high-grade rice, and corn powder dyed with Sudan IV, labeled as chili pepper.

In Nigeria there is milk powder with no animal protein. In Kenya there is vegetable oil made of recycled oil unfit for human consumption.

Given that most of the counterfeit products in Africa are staples consumed to fulfill daily dietary needs, they are likely contributing to the rising levels of malnutrition and cancer on the continent. When parents living on just dollars a day believe they are buying their children milk, and that milk has no animal protein, the impacts on child development can be devastating. Indeed, there is no way to know to what extent food fraud is contributing to stunting, which affects 34% of under five-year old African children, with lifelong impacts on physical and intellectual development.

A number of issues are driving the rise of food fraud in Africa. First, the increasing complexity of food systems, ingredients with long supply chains and varying levels of scrutiny and standards, makes it very difficult to trace the origins of food products. Second, local manufacturers face increased competition from cheaper imports, which often have lower standards for African destinations, and so they may use inferior or even unregulated ingredients in their products to reduce their production costs. Third, weak regulatory standards, systems and tracking mechanisms create loop holes in which counterfeiters can thrive.

We do not yet know the full economic or health impacts of food fraud, but it seems certain that if left unchecked, this trend will exacerbate the nutrition and health challenges facing many countries in Africa. It could derail efforts to build strong and vibrant local food systems.

Fortunately, some African countries and companies are beginning to take action. Many have signed on to CODEX—a WHO/FAO initiative that sets global standards for safe food. South Africa has enforced extensive labelling regulations. It has prohibited Sudan I to IV as a food coloring, and regulatory agencies have removed products with this dangerous chemical from shelves. The Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Ghana Food and Drug Authority are likewise raising awareness among traders and retailers about the harmful effects of food fraud.

The cost of prevention is much lower than that of inaction, and everyone has a critical role to play.

But much more needs to happen.

The cost of prevention is much lower than that of inaction, and everyone has a critical role to play. Indeed, only by exercising our collective political will and commitment to the health, food security, and economic development of Africa can we halt food fraud and rebuild the public’s trust in food.

What needs to be done

African governments must set high regulatory standards for food content and labeling, track and prevent counterfeit imported and local produced food. Like the global war waged against counterfeit drugs, actions against food fraudsters must be bold, swift and unrelenting.

The African Union should establish a Food Fraud Network, similar to that of the European Union, to detect cross-border fraud, and train food inspectors, police, customs officers and others. The African Regional Economic Communities must sign formal trade agreements with their counterparts in Europe, Latin America, Asia and the Americas focused on food safety and food fraud standards.

The media must create broad-based awareness among citizens and empower them to identify counterfeit foods.

Consumers must remain vigilant, raise alarms once food fraud is detected, and demand better protection by regulatory agencies and the government.

Food Manufacturers and Agribusinesses, both local and global, must institute and enforce high standards of integrity and accountability. In addition, industry associations must become watch dogs and invest in self-regulation and self-policing to curb bad behavior.

Nahima and Yayaya died prematurely due to our collective negligence. We must act now, and swiftly, if we are to avert a deeper crisis.

Source:Quartz Media

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17 COMMENTS

  1. A typical example is Trade Kings. These guys are busy selling products which they lable as sourced from natural ingredients! What lies! The same applies with so many other Zambian companies, right now I can tell you that buying any product from a Zambian food company chances are you are worse off than buying from a South African or Zimbabwean company. Zambian food processors are evil, evil profit minded twaaats who only think of growing fatter off the sickness of poor consumers! Zambeef is another example!

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    • Your allegations are baseless concerning Zambian manufacturers in fact I find Zambian products to be of better quality eg honey ….if its not for RSA Zambian Embassy your favored RSA would have routed and off loaded all that contaminated cold meat to Zambia.

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    • 2020vision,

      What has this to do with Zambeef? Zambeef sources its animals from Zambian farmers in the villages. Are you insinuating that Zambian farmers are also now contaminating their animals?

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    • @1 do you know that the listeria that has been found in RSA processed meats is believed to have been transported in meat imported from Brazil. Zambian foods are very clean. What is lacking is a marketing strategy. Most of our foods are very healthy.

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  2. I am not surprised kids died in Nigeria eating tainted biscuits as Nigeria is a disgrace this is a country that has oil yet it has fuel shortages and imports oil and its school girls are still being kidnapped under the noses of the so called powerful army. You have a president that goes on medical leave for 3 months to the UK without telling you what is wrong with him.
    I am surprised the nasty soulless Chines have not been mentioned in this article.

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  3. DO NOT EVEN LOOK VERY FAR…CHECK WHAT CHINESE BASED IN ZAMBIA ARE FEEDING OUR PEOPLE..STARTING FROM BOTTLED WATER, MUSHROOMS, MODIFIED VILLAGE CHICKEN,……WE NEED TO AGGRESSIVELY MONITOR AND POLICE THEM…….

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    • Chines exploit the system and laid back authorities is just Christmas for them, they can sell you plastic rice and feed you fish fattened with raw sewer!!

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  4. @JayJay you really laughable chap when was the last time you were in Zambia? Get off your lazy bum and try and visit Zambia to get a taste of reality and while you are here you should eat some biscuits from Trade Kings, Musas and the rest of these poison manufacturers.
    @facts you have a short memory or rather selective have you forgotten the meat that was laced with formaldehyde to preserve it that Zambeef was selling???

    Eating organic produced Honey that is sold abroad is a different thing that stuff is genuinely sourced in order to meet the EU standards , you must be exceptionally dull to equate that with TradeKings products which even the owners wouldn’t eat.

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    • When I’m in Zambia I eat a lot of Zambian made products, they may need work on packaging but contains are up to standard…So because you don’t like the taste of the biscuits you equate this to poison. You think Trade Kings is a katemba store in Chawama..you are delusional..who is talking about that honey sold in shops in UK that’s blended honey from a dozen sources all over the world. You are then hallucinating about Zambeef and that embalming debacle…you seriously think Zambeef would risk that again especially with its reach across Africa.
      Enjoy RSA food…have pride in Zambian made products don’t just make utterly reckless blanket allegations.
      Wake up from your docility and enjoy your 5 day holiday!!

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    • @jayjay I’m the one in Zambia you are in the UK so I’m referring to the organic world class honey produced here but sent there not the stuff produced in Europe or whereever. Was talking about Zambian food processing companies like Zambeef and Tradekings. When next you come down please eat their crap and we’ll see how well you’ll be-why do you think so many Zambians are getting cancer these days? @ndjani the embalmed meat came from Europe but was sold in Zambia where it was consumed by you! You chaps must understand I’ve never condemned Zambian food I’m condemning Zambian food processors for their poor quality. Best to even buy from local butcheries than Zambeef when it comes to biscuits best to buy even Zimbabwean biscuits than the crap from Tradekings.

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    • @Jayjay and furthermore if you think Tradekings a Pakistani company and Zambeef a racist musungu company are real Zambian companies then you need to do some research mwana.

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    • 2020vision – From the above post its evidently clear that this subject is beyond your small-bigoted mind and you are now just reaching.
      Have a drink and enjoy your long holiday!!

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    • @gayjay iwe mwaichi FYI 40 percent of Zambeef as a group is owned by CDC the private equity arm of the UK’s DFID. It has a market capitalisation on Luse of less than USD 5million, you are genius in the UK so you tell me what their market capitalisation is on the Alternative Investment Market under LSE? So what does that mean? In dull man’s language which is what you understand it means Zambeef’s majority stake is owned by musungus.

      As for Tradekings you are a dull civilian that doesn’t know anything so stay ignorant and prosper with it. On bigotry iwe chi guy how many times on this fora have you used derogatory racial words? Eh? Too many to count so remove that prick in your own eye before it blinds you completely.

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  5. Zambian food is better than food imported from outside in some way. learn to appreciate your local products. these imported foodstuffs busy killing us. Grz needs ti ban certain imports.

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  6. African governments are to blame for this miserable trend on the continent.

    With an excellent eco-system in place Africa is able to produce more healthy food than any other place on earth. There is need to not only regulate food imports but also agree on the types of food entering the continent as an effective way of protecting our home grown products.

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