Health experts fault Malawi’s standards watchdog for green lighting substandard spirit

MALAWI – Malawian health experts have faulted the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) for allowing PressCane Limited (PCL), an ethanol distillery in Malawi, to sell its rectified spirit to the public which, they had previously labelled as substandard.

Rectified spirit, also known as neutral spirits, is highly concentrated ethanol that has been purified by means of repeated distillation in a process called rectification.

The two health experts – Dr Charles Dzamalala and Dr. YB Mlombe  who are both pathologists and researchers, operating under the banner of Health and Civic Research Initiative (HACRI) Ltd wrote to MBS’ Director of Testing Services, Stephen Kuyeli, questioning why the Bureau allowed the spirit into the market.

As per Malawian standard MS573:2007(ICS.080.60) (Ethanol specification), the maximum level of methanol in rectified spirit should be 50 parts per million (ppm). However, lab results from a South African laboratory revealed the product had almost triple the tolerable level (140ppm).

HACRI’s letter which has been seen by Nyasa Times, shows that the development follows a recent report authored by MBS’s Director of Testing Services Stephen Kuyeli who certified the rectified alcohol from PressCane Limited. The report showed that the rectified spirit showed no trace of methanol, Acetone, Propanol or pentanol.

However, subsequent research showed that the rectified spirit used in Malawi from PCL is “dangerous” and “impure” as it can cause leukemia skin cancer and make people blind.

“We wrote to request follow up on the PEST /20/AX/06 report as provided by MBS as custodian of Standards in the country. It is desirable that MBS procedures carry the trust of all of us and are accurate,” reads the letter.

Further tests recommended

The letter, therefore, proposes a committee of experts drawn from MBS, Chancellor College Chemistry Department, PressCane Limited, Ethanol Limited, and HACRI Limited to conduct further tests.

The Committee shall then witness the testing process of the same sample at PressCane in order to come to an understanding of the local testing methods and processes available in Malawi and identify any issues that might stand in the way of an accurate determination of impurities in alcohols that are accessible for human consumption in the country.

“It is in the interest of public health to ensure that dangerous impurities such as methanol are not supplied to be in contact by humans,” adds the letter.

According to the letter, PressCane is grossly faulted for putting the lives of the population at risk just for profits.

“The results from MBS which showed no impurities for rectified spirits are also concerning as to whether they were genuine results or they were unreliable results from an incompetent or from a corrupt laboratory,” the letter reads.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have since weighed in on the issue citing that it should not be overlooked but worked on with immediate attention for posterity.

“The one who is at the centre of testing is very unfortunate. We work towards an alcohol free-world much as we know it cannot be immediately happening. But this is stupid. We want our youths to abstain from alcohol and drugs in totality,” said Nelson Zakeyu, Executive Director of Drug Fight Malawi.

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