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Opinions of Sunday, 25 June 2006

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

The Food We Eat: Are We Safe?

Last week saw some stunning and gruesome revelations that Eurofood Ghana Limited, producers of Malt ‘n’ Milk and other confectionaries, that the company used unwholesome flour for its products.

If the story is true and anything to go by, it would mean that innocent Ghanaians have been turned into chicken and lizards by eating maggots and weevil infested flour. According to a statement issued by the company’s solicitor, Mr. Bernard Turkson, it was found out that company's bonded warehouse had been infested with weevils and maggots and therefore, decided to transfer them into a container for destruction on June 8, this year. Who knows whether Mr. Turkson was doing a very good work as a lawyer and solicitor? And on the contrary, Anas Ameyaw of Crusade Guide also holds a the opposite view that maggot and weevil infested flour has been used to make biscuits for the unsuspecting consuming public to eat. Who should we believe? Is it the company’s solicitor or the journalist? There is one thing which is certain in this world. Truth is one and as William Cullen Bryant rightly said: "Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again."

The issue of the sale of unwholesome foods in the country is not only limited to EuroFood Ghana Limited, should the Crusading Guide’s revelation is something to bank on. It must be noted that this practice is old as the earliest history books and contemporary as the morning newspapers.

The rate at which fried rice vendors, popularly called "check check" are springing up near gutters, toilets and other unsanitary places in the country puts the health of the public who patronise their products at high risk.

A lot of people have expressed concern about the preparation and handling of food and blame the situation on the law enforcing agencies for not enforcing the law to stop such food vendors from selling at unhygienic places in the country.

What about the health of people who sell or cook food to the public? There is a law that mandates would be food vendors to go for medical certification and be tested test to check their personal health. But the question still remains do we really enforce this directive? Who should do this? Is it the local government health inspectors or Food and Drug Board?

In markets like Makola, Kaneshie, Kejetia or Agbobloshie markets you see people selling food on the ground. What is the health implication? After nearly fifty years of self governance, it appears we have not learnt any lessons as nation. Our sanitation standards and standards in other sectors do not meet world-class standards. I find it hard to see people selling food on the ground, see flies hovering on food which is meant to me consumed by people.

Food products like yoghurt can be made unwholesome through they way they are stored. Yoghurt has to be stored within a certain range of temperature and once this condition is not met the whole product becomes unwholesome. Selling of canned foods directly under the heat of the sun is also not good as it weakens the preservative agents and renders the food poisoned.

As Mr. Ben Ofosu-Appiah rightly said because we live in a lawless country, anybody at all can stand up and bring something into the country for sale, especially food products which have a direct effect on the public health of the country. Nobody checks to see if these products meet acceptable health standards. The fact that there has been no major food scares in the country does not mean we can take public safety for granted. There are pharmaceutical drugs imported into the country, some of which have unknown compositions. It is standard practice that foods and drugs boldly display the constituents and the respective percentages. The question is: where is the Food and Drug Board when importers play games with the health of the people? There is the need for Ghana to a get a solid regulatory mechanism to regulate food and drugs industries in the country. The power of a nation is in the health of its people. If we neglect this we would be purchasing our doom on an instalment plan. The roles of Food and Drug Board, and Ghana Standard Board and other research bodies should be clarified to avoid duplication of roles. Notwithstanding, the job must go on. The highly publicised struggle for power between the FDB and the Research Centre at Legon was nearly a disgrace. When people are being killed slowly, this is no time to struggle for power. Power struggle and bickering between the two would not help. The African proverb that when two elephants fight it the ground that suffers. These two agencies must learn to work together in partnership and not be concerned with power and glory to the task ahead of them.

Another area which needs urgent attention is the illicit proliferation of herbal drugs in the country whereby people who have not even attended secondary school call themselves doctors and admit patients, give infusions etc. This is DANGEROUS. It is common for one to hear herbalists saying that a particular herbal product can cure nearly every sickness. One drug can cure malaria, diarrhoea, nausea, skin infections, STDs, vaginal thrush, gonorrhoea, syphilis to sexual impotency. The least common denominator (LCM) that runs through almost every herbal product is that it is a sexual potency drug, a local form of Viagra.

It is really disgusting to hear such claims by herbalist go unchallenged. I am sometimes nearly reduced to tears when I see flooding some of these drugs in buses. Don’t get me wrong, I am not “anti herbal treatment” but just like drugs are tested before being accepted, these should be subject to rigourous testing. Herbal clinics should be monitored and properly regulated and claims should be facts not lies. The Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler said that by means of shrewd lies, unremittingly repeated, it is possible to make people that heaven is hell and hell is heaven. The greater the lie, the more readily it will be believed. This is what pertains in Ghana because of the media some herbalist are making unwarranted claims about their products. Media persons who support these lies should be prosecuted. Where the claims are true, they should get the due attention and support.

The public needs to be protected against people who want to use all available means to get money at the expense of the health of the people. Food and Drug Board, and Ghana Standard Board and the rest of law enforcement agencies must rise up from their slumber. As the saying goes a barking dog is more useful than a sleeping lion.

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through: Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi. Tel www.leaders-of-tomorrow-inc.com

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