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Opinions of Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Columnist: Anim-Mensah, Alexander

Fake foods, fake drugs, and fake drinks - What safeguarding mechanisms are in place?

As we all know, population growth presents its own challenges and that trend in Ghana is no exception. Some of the basic challenges include how to feed, clothe, shelter, as well as provide potable water, and deliver efficient health services to growing populations. These challenges must be met while minimizing or preventing potential negative consequences of such as pollution, epidemics and the like.

Strategies to feed our growing population have included increasing crop yield and livestock production through various means. Genetic modification (GMO), use of fertilizers, and pesticides are some of the now common approaches being used to increase crop yield. Several postharvest approaches that delay or speed up the ripening process are also being used for fruits and vegetables cultivation. Modern mechanized farming, the use of computer technology, spatial imaging technologies hold the potential to make sufficient food production a reality with each passing day. In the area of livestock production, all kinds of medications such as steroids and antibiotics are being used to lower death rates from infections and diseases. In fact, others have even turned to synthetic approaches for some foods and animal products to avoid the sometimes costly and long methods used to produce food by natural means.

With all these great attempts to increase food yield and improve preservation lies several risks concerns, not to mention, the impact of excessive and/or wrong uses and applications of these new technologies and approaches. As a country that imports a lot of its food, of greater concern to me, is the growing population’s need and demand indirectly driving the growth of fake goods including drugs, fake foods and fake drinks. This is possibly due to unavailability of genuine products, exorbitant costs, lack of standards and enforcement or simple greed. For the most part, these fake drugs, foods and drinks have unstandardized formulations and in most cases contain unapproved substances or excessive approved substances which in effect makes them potentially toxic for human consumption. Some of these silent killers are ruining innocent lives especially, that of our youth. The biggest challenge is the difficulty in identifying these fake products without the requisite skillset or appropriate tools. This is compounded by the craftiness involved in concealing such products and the very effective marketing strategies employed to sell such products. A case in point, is the increased demand for various local and imported aphrodisiacs; some of which, could be contributing to major health issues in the country.

I know some measures are being taken to address these issues; however, reminding us to be vigilant or aware is necessary if we are to successfully mount a formidable front to counter the dangers and consequences of fake drugs, foods and drinks in our society. A growing and young nation as ours needs its citizens to have sound minds in sound bodies for development, hence, the need to take these fake drugs, foods and drinks seriously before they it become a canker. I believe the steps in addressing these fake drugs, foods and drinks issues should include identifying the underlying factors driving these to Ghana. This may include dwindling land for farming because of mining, farmers lacking mechanized farming systems, poor transportation for post-harvest, inadequate government support for farming, poor preservation methods and a general lack of promoting made in Ghana goods. Our Standards Board, Food and Drug Administration, and all the various agencies charged with protecting the Ghanaian population’s foods and drugs should also be structured, trained, equipped, funded and empowered in such a way to allow them to do their jobs efficiently. Note that, the first step to finding solutions is to identify the cause of the problem. The emergence of fake goods in Ghana could be a reflection of bigger existing underlying problems which should not be taken for granted.

I know the new administration has more issues to tackle or more fishes to fry, however, this is a concern of mine because the underlying contributing factors could be unveiling bigger issues in the system. As the old adage goes, a stitch in time saves nine. Let make life and living better.

Alexander Anim-Mensah, PhD (The GSTS Alumni Association - North America) Dayton, Ohio