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Workers, nutritionist urge caution, absolve NBC of error on benzoic standards

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The Association of Food, Beverage and Tobacco Employers (AFBTE), has called for caution on the recent controversies over the safety of benzoic preservatives in foods and beverages in the country, especially as it concerns the consumption of Sprite and Fanta along with Vitamin C.

The union warned that it might impact negatively on the workers of the bottling company, who may be laid off on account of poor sales.The General Secretary, AFBTE, Adewale Jones, in statement in Lagos, called for proper scientific investigation before condemning Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) Plc, makers of the soft drinks, and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), which certified them fit for human consumption.

Meanwhile, a nutritionist and food scientist, Oluwole Toye, has absolved the Nigeria Bottling Company, (NBC) of any error on the levels of benzoic preservative contained in Fanta and Sprite, saying the food industry complied with laid down regulations and standards.

Addressing journalists in Lagos, on the safety of benzoic preservatives, Toye, who is the first Vice National President, Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology, said benzoic acid is globally certified by the Codex Allimentarius Commission (CODEX) as safe preservative used in food generally, and a beverage product around which Nigeria industrial standards pegged at 250mg/kg, which is within the international CODEX standard of 600mg/kg

The implication, he said, is that no Nigerian company in food and beverage business is guilty of any error, as they cannot go above standards since they are strictly regulated and monitored by National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON).

Aligning himself with the position of the Federal Ministry of Health, and the Nigerian Institute of Foods Science and Technology (NIFST), a professional association of Food Scientists and Technologists, Toye said the clarification became necessary because of wide spread ignorance on the use of benzoic as preservative in Nigeria.

According to him, that the products did not conform with the United Kingdom standard does not make the products dangerous, or inferior to others as every country reserves the right to set its own standards according to prevailing environmental condition but not exceeding the CODEX standards of 600 mg/ kg.

“Nigeria and the United Kingdom, just like every other country, are at liberty to set their respective national standards referencing the CODEX standard and taking into consideration their peculiar environmental and other realities.

“Results of tests carried out on the NBC products in question (Fanta and Sprite) by the U.K. Custom authorities in 2007, and by Nigeria’s National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in December 2016 showed that the products were in compliance with Nigeria’s regulatory standards for benzoic levels and are therefore safe for human consumption,” he added.

Toye noted that the standard practice is for every country to issue a certificate of free sale for products coming from producing country before the products are allowed in, adding that the importer in this case did not conform to this requirement before the export.

Similarly,Jones argued that the said importer ought to have notified NBC of the intention to export the products to the United Kingdom (U.K.), bearing in mind that every country has its own standard regarding manufacturing and investment, more so as the products are also available there.

He stressed further: “Our intervention by this medium aims to advance the public interest through promoting the facts on this issue, and therefore will concern only issues that are clear and which do not form part of those.

“We have followed with concern the flurry of media commentaries on this issue, majority of which have no rational or scientific basis. More worrisome is the fact that many commentators have not bothered to investigate the issues dispassionately to enable them gain a better understanding of what is involved, thereby enriching the quality of their intervention.”

Worried that some Nigerians are spreading half-truths by declaring Fanta and Sprite beverages as unsafe for human consumption, Jones noted that many Nigerians were already out of jobs due to the present economic challenges, stressing that those investors who are still operating against all odds should be commended.He reasoned that NAFDAC had a track record of performance and could not have faltered in its responsibility in relation to the issue at hand.

He said: “I recalled when contaminated milk was imported from China; it was NAFDAC that discovered it and raised an alarm against its consumption. Besides you see officials of the agency moving around the country just to ensure that both drugs and foods consumed in the country are safe.”

The union therefore commended the Federal Ministry of Health, for demonstrating leadership with their timely public statement, which clarified the facts on the safety of the products.


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