The National Assembly’s Joint Committee on Health-Care Services and Drugs and Narcotics on Thursday, 9th June, made a move to investigate allegations against the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), with regards to importation of substandard and cancer causing tomato paste into Nigeria.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, present at the One-Day Investigative Public Hearing which held at the House of Representative National Complex, Abuja underscored the need to take up matters relating to public health seriously.
Tomato production companies like Erisco Foods Limited, Dansa Agro-Allied Ltd and Savannah Integrated Farms upbraided NAFDAC for treating the safety of Nigerians with levity.
In the presentation made by the Chairman, Erisco Foods Limited, Mr. Eric Umeofia, he accused NAFDAC of not keeping up with expected pace, as the agency no longer enforce regulations. He further stated that with the knowledge of NAFDAC, importers still flood the Nigerian market with substandard tomato pastes.
Corroborating this claim, Managing Director of Dansa Agro-Allied Ltd, Mr. Abdulkarim Kaita, said that there are three categories of paste for the European, Asian and African market, emphasizing that the pastes for African market are the lowest in terms of quality.
Although, importers present at the meeting rebuffed the claim, the tomato production companies maintained that NAFDAC encouraged foreign companies in China and India to import substandard tomato pastes into Nigeria.
Erisco Food legal adviser, Honorable Abdulrahman Kadiri, said that in response to the letters sent by the company regarding the issue, NAFDAC carried out a test which proved most of these foreign companies guilty of causing health implications like diabetes.
To reiterate this statement, he made reference to the 2015 report of NAFDAC which found 91.1 percent of the 300 samples of tomato pastes tested unsatisfactory. According to him, nothing was done to mitigate the development. Instead, the company was threatened and subsequently fined a sum of one million naira by NAFDAC which stated that it had no authorization to publish such development. “If we don’t stop this trend, we can’t tell how many Nigerians will die”, he said.
NAFDAC Spokesperson, Prof. Samson Adebayo denied all allegations made by Erisco Food and Dansa Agro-Allied Ltd. He explained that the test results spoken about were for samples taken from tomato pastes in Lagos alone and not the whole country. He also added that no injurious substance was found in the samples tested and advised the committee to caution the Erisco Chairman for making unsubstantiated allegations capable of chasing foreign investors out of Nigeria.
In light of this, Chairman, House Committee on Healthcare and services, Hon. Chike John Okafor stated that the Joint Committees on Health-Care Services and Drugs and Narcotics has a responsibility to protect the lives of Nigerian consumers who could be victims of said importations.
He continued, saying that the allegations have created panic, mistrust and fear in Nigerians who believe that the carcinogens found in imported pastes are responsible for high death rates and also tomato scarcity in the country.
He was quoted as saying, “We totally condemn these killer tomato pastes and we will carry out a comprehensive investigation about it, even if it will take us beyond the borders of Nigeria, just to get to the bottom of the allegations and bring perpetrators to book”. Having said that, he warned that if the allegations were confirmed to be true, NAFDAC representatives and staff would be dealt with, in line with the laws of the land.
In a bid to proffer solutions to the scourge, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria’s (MAN) representative, Mr. Adeyemi Folorunsho stated that tomato imports in retail packs should be banned because it contains substances harmful to the body.
CEO of Reap Chilo Integrated Farms Ltd, Agudosi Ngozika, also said the federal government should make funds available to people who are ready to cultivate tomatoes in Nigeria and produce their own pastes.