Food Safety: A constitutional right

Food Safety: A constitutional right
12 June 2020
By Abayomi Sarumi The Nigerian Constitution stipulates that the primary role of the government shall be the security and welfare of the citizens. Nigeria’s commemoration of the World Food Safety Day marked June 7 annually, is a reminder of this provision of the law. It is no news that many governments in the world work so hard to achieve food security. One component that is as important as having an endless supply of food is having food that is safe for consumption. It is then a cause for concern when government foot-drags in taking action on clear dangers facing citizens, particularly dangers from what they eat.

Two years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) made a global call to governments to remove trans fat from food supplies in a bid to have a healthy population. Industrially-produced trans fat has been identified as one risk factor for many heart-related diseases that lead to avoidable deaths globally. With WHO’s position as the global watchdog over health issues, the call to take action is clear enough for national governments to take seriously. The WHO template for trans fat elimination is a workable plan that any government may easily adopt.

With a population of more than 200 million people and the highest number of people living below the poverty line, Nigerians are obliviously susceptible to the dangers associated with consuming foods that contain trans fat. Being a country with weak legislations and lacking political will on the part of government, the food industry has an open door to market the harmful trans fat unhindered. For this reason, the public is in the dark and inadvertently endanger themselves through the consumption of trans fat. While different organisations in Nigeria have since enlisted to agitate for a trans fat-free Nigeria since 2018, the slow response of the government agencies empowered by law to protect the people has left so much to be desired. On the 2nd edition of the World Food Safety Day with the theme ‘Food safety, everyone’s business’, Nigerians deserve a commitment from government and government agencies empowered by law to ensure safety in their food, food supply and the entire food chain. This year’s theme allows us all to have a point of convergence to discuss our roles as stakeholders in health sector and as the ones at the receiving end. The argument that people do not need to wait for the government before avoiding trans fat does not hold and this erroneous message by those profiting from this industry use this argument to further expose Nigerians to harm and harmful consequences. As we mark this day, we must be reminded that we cannot continue to wait for the worst before we take proactive steps. WHO has set the tone.

Many countries of the world, especially in Europe and America, have either banned consumption of trans fat completely or reduced the quantity considerably in food. Such decisions have been proven to reduce the burden on countries’ health systems and help save scarce resources that can be deployed to better use. Eliminating trans fat through government regulations will be the elimination of dietary risk of heart diseases. The National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) must now pick up the gauntlet and do the needful for the good of everyone. Just as we call on the government, we must all rise up to the challenge and play our roles and to deliver a Trans Fat-Free-Nigeria. As a concerned citizen, I urge the Federal Government of Nigeria to ensure our food supply is safe. Food must be nutritious, affordable, within reach and harmless. Removing trans fat from our food supply will not affect the taste and price. Food producers must not continue to harm consumers with the needless use of trans fatty oils in food production. Nigerian lives matter and must not be wasted on the platter of negligence and profit. Every Nigerian must lend their voice to the #TransfatFreeNigeria campaign launched by advocates and support NAFDAC to deliver regulations that will see food producers eliminate the use of trans fat in production chain. It is an undeniable fact that #TransfatFreeNigeria is everyone’s business.

Sarumi wrote from Abuja.