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Food safety becomes global concern as 23m Europeans fall sick yearly

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A man spraying herbicides

Liuba Negru of the Country Support and Communications, World Health Organistion (WHO) Regional Office for Europe and Stephanie Brickman, Communications Consultant, WHO Regional Office for Europe released a bombshell as the world celebrated food safety day on Friday, June 7, 2019.

The startling report, entitled, ‘The burden of foodborne diseases in the WHO European Region,’ said every minute, 44 people – more than 23 million per year – fall sick from eating contaminated food, and an estimated 4,700 per year lose their lives. The health body said the data represented only the tip of the iceberg, for the true number is unknown.

The WHO European Region joined partners across the world in celebrating the day to raise awareness and promote action to improve food safety.

“Every country around the world, from small to big, from rich to poor, has suffered from foodborne illnesses, and Europe is no exception. The scale of the challenge posed by foodborne disease is striking, indicating the importance of preventing and mitigating risks to food safety,” says Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

“Food is a global affair with a food chain that wraps around the planet. A simple meal can easily contain ingredients from multiple continents and its safety depends on international collaboration. World Food Safety Day is an unprecedented opportunity to call on governments to strengthen the systems that guarantee safe food, across sectors and across Europe and the world,” Jakab added.

The gory story in America
A court in California on Monday, June 3, 2019, ordered Bayer-owned Monsanto to pay more than $2 billion damages to a couple that sued on grounds the weed killer Roundup caused their cancer, lawyers said.

The award was the latest in a series of court defeats for Monsanto over the herbicide. The company insists the glyphosate-based product is not linked to cancer.

The couple’s legal team described the damages award as “historic,” saying it totaled $2.055 billion after adding in slightly more than $55 million in compensatory damages.

“The jury saw for themselves internal company documents demonstrating that, from day one, Monsanto has never had any interest in finding out whether Roundup is safe,” said plaintiff’s counsel Brent Wisner.

“Instead of investing in sound science, they invested millions in attacking science that threatened their business agenda.”

Reacting, Bayer said it was let down with the jury’s decision and would appeal the verdict, which it argues was at odds with a recent US Environmental Protection Agency review of glyphosate-based weed killers.

Also, glyphosate developer Monsanto was convicted in the United States in 2018 and 2019 of not taking necessary steps to warn of the potential risks of Roundup — their weed killer containing the chemical, which two California juries found caused cancer in two users.

Likewise, French authorities have opened a preliminary enquiry into claims Monsanto had information illegally collected on the views and pliability of hundreds of high-profile figures and media outlets.

It was similarly reported that Monsanto allegedly had public relations agency FleishmanHillard draw up files on their opinions on the controversial weed killer glyphosate and on genetically modified crops.

Meanwhile, a leaked Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) documents in the US are saying there are dangerous chemicals deposits in poultry, milk, and chocolate cakes, as reported by Megan Schaltegger recently.

“According to the leaked documents, all of our favorite foods have weird, dangerous “forever chemicals.” So, like, the sky is falling down, the world is ending, etc. etc.

“Let’s backtrack for a second though, shall we? The chemicals in question, which were found in meat, fish, milk, chocolate cakes, and more, are linked to a whole host of health issues; cancers, liver damage, and increased risk of miscarriage included,” Schaltegger wrote.

“The perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which we will now refer to as PFAS going forward, because yikes, what a mouthful, are a group of 5,000 man-made chemicals, and these are often found in common products like non-stick cookware, fire retardants, pizza boxes, and so on. You get the gist. It’s not good (and has sparked a number of lawsuits), but now it’s a lot worse than we thought. It’s actually in our food, too,” he added.

The FDA presented the data at a gathering in Finland, and precisely they found that “Nearly half of the samples tested in 2017, including poultry, red meat, and fish, contained over double the federal advisory level,” posing serious dangers.

Poultry, vegetable and grain contamination in Nigeria
In Nigeria, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides are still predominantly misused by farmers, aggregators and grain dealers. Beans, maize, groundnuts and a host of other agricultural products are unwholesomely preserved using chemicals that are not meant to be ingested into human bodies.

Most poultry and livestock veterinary antibiotic drugs have instructions of two to five days of withdrawal from flesh, eggs, milk or beef after administration of such drugs. The Guardian’s investigation revealed that no poultry or cattle farmer, including the giants in the industry, adheres to this safety instruction.

Some poultry farmers routinely use antibiotics once in a month or two. Eggs collected two to five days after administration of the drugs, with the exception of multi-vitamins and a few other vet drugs, are usually unwholesome and therefore unfit for consumption, but farmers push them out as normal.

Confirming this, Dr Olufunmilayo Adejimin, current provost of the Federal College of Animal Health and Production Technology, Ibadan, said animals such as cattle and poultry birds should not be slaughtered for some days after administration of antibiotics, but most farmers do not comply with the instructions.

An animal health technologist, who identified himself simply as Seyi in Ibadan, said categorically that eggs produced while administering antibiotics have residues and should not be consumed as recommended by most manufacturers, but farmers do not comply with the instructions.

Mr Sola Olunowo, Managing Director of Agropark Nigeria, also affirmed that some poultry vaccines used on broilers should spend more than three months to elapse, but most commercial broilers are raised within just six weeks, raising questions about the wholesomeness of the products.

He said that was the reason his farm decided from the outset to use organic vaccines extracted from lemongrass, ginger, garlic and other local herbs. Multivitamins are extracted from fruits and vegetables to produce completely organic poultry.

Fruits and vegetables
Vegetable farmers, for example, are supposed to refrain from using certain pesticides seven to 14 days before harvest.

However, a visit to the vegetable farmers at the Lagos State University (LASU) gate (representing what most vegetable farmers do in the country) revealed that farmers use pesticides five to two days before harvest, in flagrant disregard to instructions. More so, banned chemicals such as are still widely sprayed on vegetables.

Plantain and banana traders in major cities across the country also use ripening chemicals to fast-track the products’ readiness for sale. The chemicals used are not meant for ingestion into human bodies.

A banana trader in Lagos, who demanded anonymity, said most green but soft bananas are induced with chemicals within two to three days instead of allowing them to ripen naturally. Naturally ripe bananas have yellowish peels, not deep green, she explained, warning buyers to be cautious while buying fruits.

Maize, soya beans and groundnuts
Also, most grains such as maize, soya beans and legumes such as groundnuts are heavily contaminated with aflatoxin, fumosins and other contaminants, but most food processors in the country use the contaminated materials for food processing and they practically make no move to create awareness to reverse the trend to the tolerable level.

The subject of food safety was the thrust when the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), Nestle Nigeria and their implementing partner, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), organized a feedback seminar in Kaduna on food grain contaminants, especially aflatoxin, fumonisins and aluminum, recently.

USAID, Nestle and CNFA reported that aflatoxins are the commonest mycotoxins and that they are poisonous chemicals produced by certain mold fungi. They reside in the soil and dead decaying organic matter. Over 20 per cent of maize are affected.

Exposure to these mycotoxins causes toxic effects in livestock’s growth, productivity and agribusiness profitability and are carcinogenic to humans.

Teamwork as the solution
“Food is something people don’t think about until it goes wrong, yet unacceptable numbers of people are being subjected to the misery of foodborne illness, sometimes with serious consequences – especially for the very young and very old,” explains Dr Dorit Nitzan, Acting Regional Emergency Director at WHO/Europe.

“From handwashing, cooking and storing food properly, to surveillance and international regulation – every piece of the food safety puzzle affects lives, economies and whole communities,” Dr Nitzan concludes. “World Food Safety Day is our opportunity to say out loud that it’s teamwork that will make the difference.”

The new World Food Safety Day was created by means of a resolution adopted at the United Nations General Assembly. To promote World Food Safety Day, WHO/Europe is working alongside the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Codex Alimentarius. Codex Alimentarius is a global organization that supports food safety with a collection of standards, guidelines and codes of practice established by WHO and FAO to protect consumer health and promote fair practices in the food trade.

Calls for actions in Nigeria
Mrs Moji Karigidi, a doctoral student bio-chemist who has developed a bio-pesticide for beans and grain preservation from lemon grass and orange peels, said: “If we are serious about minimising the health effects of agro-chemicals, there has to be aggressive advocacy to educate farmers, food processors, traders and the general public on the importance of spraying chemicals with caution and following the directives of the manufacturers.

She also added that people should be made to understand that the less chemicals they are exposed to, the better, saying, “Putting a stop to the indiscriminate use of pesticides and other agro-chemicals will go a long way to limit exposure to toxic chemicals that escalate life-threatening diseases.” 

In addition, she said, there should be punishment for offenders, calling for support of the development and use of bio-pesticides which are organic in nature and without toxic residues.

“Better still, promoting organic methods of food production and ensuring that adequate monitoring measures are put in place will help reduce the consumption of toxic chemicals,” she suggested.

Professor Lateef Sanni, Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), said there are alternatives to dangerous chemicals.

“There are some of the chemicals we have to replace and recombine and they will not be carcinogenic to humans. The contents in the glyphosate herbicides would have to be replaced.

“We have to combine one or two chemicals that are not carcinogenic and they are available.

“What the federal government of Nigeria has to do is to ensure that the regulatory agencies stand and become effective. We must convoke a national dialogue to discuss what alternatives are available and safe. That national dialogue is very important. There is no shortcut to this; we have to do it.

“Part of the alternatives is the organic agriculture. I know we have a very good organic network in Nigeria and these efforts should be combined going forward,” he said.


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