The European Union recently announced the suspension of some agricultural food exports from Nigeria. The food items banned from Europe till June 2016 were beans, sesame seeds, melon seeds, dried fish and meat, peanut chips and palm oil.
According to the European Food Safety Authority, the rejected beans were found to contain between 0.03mg per kilogramme to 4.6mg/kg of dichlorvos pesticide, when the acceptable maximum residue limit is 0.01mg/kg.
The EU had warned Nigeria that the banned food items constituted danger to human health because they contained a high level of unauthorised pesticide.
Indeed, the EU ban did not come as a surprise to many Nigerians because many advanced countries deploy very rigorous standards of checking food import especially with the shift towards organic foods.
The embargo is a reflection of our inability as a nation to adhere to safety standards, at the risk of the well being of the citizenry.
Aside the huge economic loss of the EU ban, the safety of the food consumed locally has become questionable.
Pesticides are chemical or biological agents that are used to protect crops from insects, weeds, and infections.
Pesticides are used on fruits, vegetables, wheat, rice, olives and canola pressed into oil, and on non-food crops such as cotton, grass, and flowers.
According to experts, the most common way most infants, children and adults are exposed to pesticides is by eating them on and in food.
Fetuses, infants, growing children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and women of childbearing age are most at risk for adverse health outcomes from exposure to pesticides. Children are more at risk than adults because children eat more relative to their body weight than adults eat. Exposures during vulnerable periods of development can be particularly dangerous. These vulnerable periods include fetal development, infancy, early childhood, and puberty. Fetuses are exposed to pesticides through the mother’s diet while infants are exposed through breast milk.
These health hazards posed by the use of pesticides to infants, children and adults necessitate the need to regulate their use by farmers and ensure that minimal levels are present in foods, fruits and vegetables.
The EU ban exposes the flaws in our food regulation practices. It shows that the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has not been on top of its game by ensuring the safety of food consumed by Nigerians.
The ban also exposes our laxity as a nation. Before imposing the sanctions, the EU said it had issued 50 notifications to Nigerian beans exporters since January 2013. The United Kingdom also reportedly issued 13 border rejection alerts to Nigerian beans exporters between January and June 2015.
It therefore beats the imagination that Nigerian authorities failed to take any significant steps to prevent the ban. Neither did they take any action to save the citizens from consuming an unnecessarily high level of pesticides in their foods.
The need for NAFDAC to wake up to its responsibility has become more imperative now than ever.
The agency must ensure that it conducts through checks to prevent harmful foods from getting into the plates of Nigerians while other concerned agencies of government including the Federal and State Ministries of Agriculture must educate and assist farmers in ensuring that application of pesticides and other chemicals on foods, crops and vegetables are within acceptable limits.
Nigeria is big enough to safely feed its citizens and export foods within acceptable international standards to earn much needed foreign exchange.
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