AFRICA – A study titled, “Food fraud amid COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa: A challenge of the present”, has intimated that lack of oversight and a wide range of informal markets have made it challenging to regulate food fraud in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
The study led by Dr Helen Onyeaka, Lecturer at the University of Birmingham, states that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact the possibility of many food fraud risks.
“In a COVID-19 pandemic era where the issue of food security has taken center stage, toxic rice and grains, gamalin-poisoned fish (as a result of killing fish by poisoning water with gamalin), formaldehyde-treated fish, formalin-treated meat, and fake Coca-Cola have been on the menu for millions of victims of food fraud in SSA,” the study reads.
The article continues by stating that the emergence of COVID-19 caused the focus given to food fraud in SSA to lessen as the priority became improving health systems.
Given that food fraud is an economically motivated behavior, COVID-19’s economic downturns definitely added fuel to the fire.
According to reports, many butchers in Kampala, Uganda, use the embalming agent formalin to keep flies at bay and make meat appear to be overly fresh. Because of this, butcher shops were forced to close permanently in the midst of the pandemic.
Also impacted is wild meat. Hunters in the Congo, Cameroon, and Uganda use formalin to prevent kills from rotting until they reach their village at the end of a multi-day hunting journey.
Apparently, even smoked fish is not immune to food system fraud in SSA. In Cameroon, some fish vendors smoke their catch using discarded cloth from tailors. This is seen as a less expensive option to purchasing and using firewood to smoke fish.
Market driven by profit over safety
Another controversial practice for many fruit dealers in SSA is hastening fruit ripening. For pineapple, plantain, and banana to seem completely ripe, phytosanitary treatments like Ethrel are typically used.
Ethrel is used to give pineapple, plantains, and bananas a yellowish tint because many consumers think they are not ripe if they are not yellow.
Although using this drug in the proper quantity is authorized, some vendors abuse it by using excessive amounts, the study states.
Sodium benzoate is used in Ethiopia to extend the shelf life of injera, a staple flatbread, from three days to ten days.
The Ethiopian Food and Drug Authority (EFDA) acknowledged the chemical’s safety, but traders are utilizing it improperly and illegally by adding excessive amounts to products, endangering the health of consumers.
This dishonest practice is motivated by profit and has no regard for quality or safety; it just seeks to extend the shelf life of injera past ten days.
In addition, the study asserts that SSA has had instances of plastic rice and adulterated salt, notably in the Western region.
Cases of Sudan IV-dyed palm oil have also been reported in Ghana. Sudan IV, a substance used to color shoe polish and waxes red, is not permitted in meals due to its carcinogenic qualities, in contrast to sodium benzoate, whose safety is approved in Ethiopia.
As stated by the study, so many policies and standards exist across countries in SSA, however, implementation has been failing.
“With the pandemic still largely at hand, it is imperative to mandate and tighten checks at entry points, borders, hotels, formal and informal food vendors, shops, and abattoirs. Also, health-seeking habits should be embedded in the consumers through adequate sensitization, in both rural and urban areas,” reads the article.
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic’s pressures have made it more difficult for businesses and regulators to perform the required supply-chain checks.
These difficulties, as per the study, are anticipated to last as long as the pandemic does, emphasizing the necessity for key suppliers to remain vigilant.
Maureen Sindisiwe Kalane, Communication & Studies Skills Unit, University of Botswana; Ashenafi Teshome Guta Adalbert, Germany; and Phemelo Tamasiga, Scharnhorst Strasse,Duisburg, Germany also took part in the study.