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Opinions of Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Columnist: Vicky Wireko

Our Sudan IV dye palm oil - More tears for Ghanaian consumer

Last week was another tear-shedding moment for the Ghanaian consumer. The extent of greed and wickedness when it comes to exploiting the consumer has gone beyond pardon as news of adulterated palm oil dominated the headlines.

The regrettable Sudan IV dye, a dangerous cancer-causing chemical, was reported to have been found in some samples of palm oil collected from identified markets in Accra and Tema. The story immediately revealed the level of insensitivity and greed on the part of the individuals in the trade who have taken advantage of the laxity in the system to exploit the consumer.

Sudan IV dye in 2005
I first heard about the Sudan IV dye in 2005 and as it became a world alert at the time, there were hue and cry here in Ghana though I must say it was not at the same level as what we are seeing now. The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), then Food and Drugs Board, came out with cautions to consumers.That was the last one heard about Sudan IV in palm oil.

There has not been any news of active monitoring by the FDA. So, any wonder then that the miscreants have had a field day for 10 clear years adding poison to one of the favourite cooking ingredients of Ghanaians?

So, if indeed tests so far carried out by the FDA on samples of palm oil confiscated from 10 major markets in Accra and Tema showed active dye substance of about 98 per cent, then one could imagine the buildup of cancer-causing chemicals in the bodies of palm oil eaters in this country and possibly beyond.

The FDA has been a bit slow in getting ahead of the gangsters in this adulterated palm oil saga. Definitely, if they took firm charge from 2005 when Sudan IV dye in palm oil made news, we definitely would have nipped that nefarious business in the bud, 10 years on. Surprisingly, they have also been slow in picking up information on the current palm oil adulteration.

Sudan IV dye in April 2015
Apparently, Sudan IV dye in palm oil was detected outside Ghana as far back as April 2015. In Britain for example, the Foods Standard Agency (FSA) issued a recall notice specifically to a cash and carry outfit that stocked unlabelled Ghanaian palm oil and which was said to have contained the carcinogenic Sudan dye.

Around the same time (April, this year), a London local authority, Tower Hamlets Council, also issued a warning to consumers and retailers in their borough regarding the contaminated unlabelled palm oil with pictures of it purportedly coming from Ghana.

Yet, our FDA never picked up any signs until six months later “after a tip-off”, according to the Daily Graphic issue of October 26, 2015. It was then that in collaboration with the Narcotics Division of the Police Service, they conducted swoops in the 10 major markets in Accra and Tema.

Public health
We need a lot more proactiveness, especially in the area of public health. Ten years since the first information on Sudan IV dye in palm oil made international news and lately in April 2015, the tons of contaminated palm oil so consumed are unimaginable. We the consumers have our health seriously compromised.

There is everything at this point to suggest that the indigenous manufacturers need to be watched by our regulators. I am sure by now the FDA is aware of the scare of Sudan I dye, an equally dangerous chemical, in powdered chili pepper. The FDA must also be aware by now of the rumour of plastic rice being mixed with bags of normal rice in order to make up the weight.

The plastic rice, which is claimed to be dangerous to human health when cooked, is very much like normal rice. The only way to detect the presence of plastic rice is during washing it. The plastic ones stay above water. One other food scare going round is artificial eggs. They are said to look exactly like normal eggs yet unwholesome. One only realises the abnormality when they are cracked open. Both the white and the yellow run together and difficult to separate.

We certainly live in dangerous times and so we need stronger regulators and enforcers to protect the consumer. Until then, one can say that the “grow what you eat and eat what you grow” philosophy has come home to roost. Only backyard cultivation can save us from the greed of selfish individuals who are chasing money unmindful of the consequences of their acts on human health.

vickywirekoandoh@yahoo.com