You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2015 10 28Article 390519

Opinions of Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Columnist: Vicky Wireko

Our fruits and vegetables

Opinion Opinion

Last weekend, I bought a sizeable quantity of garden eggs from the market. Unfortunately, more than half of the vegetables were either blackened inside or had worm-like creatures in the seeds.

In the past, one would have just removed the bad bits and used the remains. But not anymore. Not when one’s mind keeps being drawn to the fact that there is something amiss with our fruits and vegetables being banned from the European Union (EU) markets.

While the EU assiduously works to protect its consumers, I have been wondering who is looking out for the interest of local consumers.

EU ban
Last year, the EU was said to have placed a temporary ban on some of our fruits and vegetables entering their markets because they had intercepted some vegetables containing harmful organisms.

Just last month, September, 2015, we were in the news again with an EU ban on some of Ghana’s vegetables from their markets.

According to a Daily Graphic publication of September 25, 2015, the EU Plant Health Standing Committee voted to impose a temporary ban on five vegetables from Ghana due to the high level of harmful organisms in the products.

The same story was also carried by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) on September 25, 2015. According to both media reports, the vegetables were listed as capscicum, solanum species (other than tomatoes and potatoes), aubergines, momordica, luffa and langenaria.

The Ministry of Food and Agriculture at a press conference, following the ban, explained that the presence of pests in the vegetables and the lack of proper documentation for export were the main causes of the ban.

Ghana Standards Authority
Surprisingly, the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) came out shortly after, according to a Ghanaian Times publication on October 5, 2015, to allay public fears that fruits and vegetables in the country are not contaminated with pesticide residues.

At a public lecture held in Accra on October 2, 2015, GSA disclosed that a pesticide residue monitoring conducted by the GSA in some regions of the country had indicated that the levels of residue in fruits and vegetables were within acceptable limits.

Charming as the GSA explanation is, we are all aware of cautions experts repeatedly give us on the need to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consumption because of harmful residues.

So, is the EU crying foul each time it bans our vegetables and fruits entering its markets?

Interestingly, at the same public lecture organised by the GSA, a senior standards officer warned that exposure to pesticide and herbicide could cause a range of health effects such as memory loss, cancer, asthma, hormone disruptions, problems with reproduction and foetal development. Why different messages on the same platform by the same standards enforcer?

Nutritious fruits and vegetables
The fact is that though we are blessed with plentiful nutritious fruits and vegetables, there are problems not only with the methods of cultivation but even with the way we sometimes market them. It is common to find loads of oranges, pineapples and water melons dumped on bare dusty floors for sale to the public. We get worm-like infected garden eggs on sale in the market. Some of us have painfully stopped buying salad ingredients because of the constant foreign materials found in lettuce and cabbage, for example.

We do joke that African germs do not kill but we need to put jokes aside and ponder deeply on the signals the EU ban keeps sending. We complain under our breath when we purchase pineapples and discover on peeling them that they are discoloured.
We cut whole yams only to discover something black running through them. Sometimes one cuts a healthy looking mango only to discover a rotten seed inside it. All these must be diseased food items. But who is catering for the consumer’s interest?

Are we happy supervising the cultivation of separate “wholesome” fruits and vegetables for the export market and “an anything goes” produce for the local market disregarding their harmful effects on consumers?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about three million pesticide poisoning is recorded annually in developing countries. This accounts for 220,000 deaths annually. Yet, we are being told that the pesticide residue levels are within consuming limits.

Our farmers definitely need continued education on the use of pesticides for fruit and vegetable cultivation in particular. The right things for the export market should be the same yardstick for the local market.

We cannot be told to eat more fruits and vegetables and watch these same naturally enriched nutritional values get poisoned with undesirable levels of chemicals during cultivation. The equation does not work out.