By Chioma Obinna
Recently, the National Agency for Food and drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC, warned that consumption of imported frozen poultry products may lead to cancer, kidney diseases and hypertension. Unfortunately, the warning has not deterred many Nigerians from consuming them.
According to the Former NAFDAC Director-General, Dr Paul Orhii, the risk in the products is as a result of substances that can predispose one to kidney, liver and lung diseases as well as certain types of cancers and drug resistant bacterial infections among others. Medical experts believe that consumption of imported frozen poultry products can be a silent killer, without showing symptoms for prolonged periods.
Apart from the health implications of these products, it can also fasten the dearth of the nation’s poultry markets as farmers have to contend with low market demands for locally grown chickens which are cheaper, healthier and more accessible. Currently, findings have shown that about 50 million Nigerians eat imported chicken, turkey and fishes almost on a daily basis.
In the views of a Veterinary expert, Dr. Tito Adebanjo, the use of formalin, a chemical used to embalm corpses and other dangerous substances is a cancer causing chemical capable of causing liver and kidney diseases.
Adebanjo explained that the hazards caused by imported frozen foods to public health cannot be over emphasized, since some of the chemicals used in the preservation of the animals could form residues in humans and eventually result in public health hazards.
“There is little or no mechanisms at our sea ports to screen or detect the residues of chemicals used in frozen meat being imported to Nigeria, yet the foods find their way to our markets for consumption. Even the ones produced locally, no one really tests them, let alone find out the level of drug residues in them before they are sold to unwary members of the public.”
He explained that the chemicals can be divided into two: those added to animals’ feeds or injected in them and the preservatives used on the animals’ meat after they are slaughtered.
“Some of these chemicals can predispose one to cancer, hypertension or cause antibiotic resistance in man. The relentless drive to produce more animals, by some farmers – either abroad or locally – in less time at lower cost, is responsible for the routine and indiscriminate use of antimicrobial drugs in animal, including arsenicals, antibiotics, and other compounds.
“The concern, therefore, besides the effects on the livestock industry, is the fact that many analogues of these antibiotics are used in disease management in humans and could consequently add to the development of cross-resistance to antimicrobials administered in human health.”
“Though the fact that the public may not be aware of the magnitude of the health hazards resulting from consuming meat containing drug residue, that does not imply the adverse effects should not be of serious concern. What often happens is that the chemicals used in the preservation of these foods build up and serve as free agents in the body. Besides, they subsequently break the body down through one disease or another.
“Many a time, drug withdrawal periods are not observed or there is over-dosage or under-dosage of these chemicals when used by quacks. The drugs, therefore, accumulate in the meat obtained from such animals. Possible bioaccumulation occurs when these residues present in the animal tissues accumulate continuously over the lifespan of the individuals through prolonged consumption. This is of potential concern in Nigeria where meat animals constitute major source of animal protein,” the veterinary doctor, who specialises in food hygiene, food safety and zoonoses, added.
Similarly, the President, Poultry Association of Nigeria, Dr. Ayoola Oduntan who urged the Federal Government to curb the menace noted that smuggled chicken is responsible for several health issues experienced in the country, due to the presence of high level of bacteria in the chicken coupled with high toxic chemical that are used to preserve it just to ensure it gets to our market at cheaper rate.”
Also, an investment analyst, Mr. John Ayodele explained that the fact that the foods are smuggled and massively consumed indicates that there is a wide gap in the local market that needs to be bridged.
According to him, that gap is not as a result of inefficiencies of poultry owners but due to lack of patronage on the part of the consumers. “Operators have invested in slaughtering and De-feathering machinery, packaging and storage facilities as well as marketing strategies to convince Nigerians to patronise their safer and more nutritious products.
“This is a viable money making idea for Nigerians, especially the ones in Diaspora seeking viable businesses to set up in Nigeria. Home based Nigerians looking for what to do in retirement can also consider this business. The unemployed Nigerian graduate, who can put on his thinking cap, can also set up in this business, starting small,” he said.
Ayodele added that Nigeria has no business importing frozen poultry, which can easily be produced at home to provide employment and create wealth for her citizens. “If patronized, operators can reduce the unemployment rate by over two million in one month and that will just be the beginning in Nigeria,” he added.
Also, an economist, Dr. Olusola Owoeye explained that Nigerian consumption is put at 1.5million tonnes, while production is estimated to be about 350,000mt tones, leaving a demand and supply gap of 1.2million tones, which is met through smuggling. He stated that to fully utilise the balance of the industry’s installed capacity of additional 350,000mt will translate to significant benefits through more job creation in form of 350,000 new jobs in maize production, 75,000 new jobs in processing and 500,000 new jobs in ancillary raw materials, products and services.
“Reducing smuggling by just 30 percent would result in the creation of about one million jobs. The future of the Nigerian poultry industry hinges delicately on firm decisions on the part of the policy makers to reverse the current unwholesome trends that tend to tilt the balance more in favour of smugglers while putting the local producers in jeopardy. The investments of local producers need urgent safeguard and support that would enable them to remain competitive in the face of smugglers onslaught,” he warned.