Beware: Imported poultry products pose grave danger to consumers’ health

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Stories by Steve Agbota [email protected] 08033302331

It is no longer news that consumption of imported poultry products can cause diseases like cancer, heart diseases, kidney diseases, hypertension and all manner of sicknesses. But what is worrisome is that Nigerians are still going for the unwholesome products without knowing or disregarding the health implications.

Nigerians are said to be consuming the imported poultry products because it is cheaper than the locally produced ones and medical experts believe that consumption of imported frozen poultry products can be a silent killer, without showing symptoms for prolonged periods.

Only recently, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, National Agency for Food and drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association (NVMA), warned that consumption of imported frozen poultry products may lead to great dangers to consumers’ health, handlers and environment. But this warning has not discouraged many Nigerians from consuming the unwholesome poultry products.

Former NAFDAC Director General, Dr. Paul Orhii, said the risk in the imported frozen products arises from use of substances that can predispose one to kidney, liver and lung diseases as well as certain types of cancers and drug resistant bacterial infections, among others.

In 2000, government banned importation of frozen poultry products and came up with various ways to safeguard the health of its citizenry by giving a mandate to Nigerian Customs Services (NCS) to protect the nation’s borders against smuggling of banned goods, especially food items. Unfortunately, because of the porous nature of the Nigerian borders, unwholesome food items still find their way into Nigerian markets.

Apart from health implications, Nigeria loses more than N1 trillion annually to smuggled frozen foods such as chicken, turkey, fish and gizzards. Stakeholders blamed the huge loss on the Federal Government’s poor implementation of the ban on the importation of frozen products and ignorance of consumers who continue to patronise the banned products.

It has been revealed that formalin load in all smuggled poultry products ranges from 42.9 to 63.3ml/kg, which portends serious danger for the consumers as some of these toxic chemicals are known to be carcinogenic.

In 2015, a research sponsored by Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), led by Prof. Tewe, to investigate the level of antibiotics in meat including poultry products discovered high microbial load of Salmonella and E. Coli app, contaminants like formalin and veterinary drug residues of antibiotics. According to them, the pathogen, Salmonella spp is the leading cause of death among those with high consumption of smuggled poultry meat.

They confirmed that these bacteria can provoke a number of symptoms of disease within 72 hours of exposure and could last four to seven days, necessitating hospital admission in some cases. Infection with Salmonella spp could be life-threatening, especially to those with weak immune systems such as infants and the elderly. They said chronic exposure to the bacteria could result in arthritic symptoms. Unfortunately, the hospital systems and healthcare service providers may be grappling with infections originating from such sources as smuggled chickens, but confusing the cases with other clinical conditions that present similar symptoms.

An Agricultural Economist, Dr. Taiwo Alalade, said apart from ignorance, Nigerians just like cheap products, which is the reason they are going for the imported frozen chicken, adding that the risks caused by imported frozen foods to public health cannot be over exaggerated, as some of the chemicals used in the preservation of the animals could form residues in humans and eventually result in public health dangers.

He added: “Come to think of it, there is no mechanism at our seaports to detect the residues of chemicals used in frozen meat being imported to Nigeria, yet the foods find their way to our markets for consumption. Even the ones produced locally, no one really screens them or finds out the level of drug residues in them before they are taken to innocent members of the public. Besides, government must tighten up the security at our land borders, if not so, the unwholesome frozen chicken would still find its way into the country.”

Speaking on how to promote local chicken, he said government must give local poultry farmers special intervention fund and encourage banks to give them loans at single digit rate. He said there was need for farmers to invest in slaughtering and de-feathering machinery, packaging and storage facilities as well as proffering marketing strategies to attract people to patronise the more hygienic and nutritious products.

Speaking with Daily Sun, the President of Nigerian Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Godwin Abonyi, said Nigeria has viable alternative poultry industry but the issue is about ignorance, which makes some Nigerians go for imported chicken because it is cheaper.

He explained: “If somebody sees meat, he really looks at it before buying and putting it in his mouth. So, it’s all about ignorance but we have a robust poultry industry even though we don’t produce enough but at least, it is not worth somebody eating from the dustbin.

“Local poultry farmers are already packaging their products and supplying a number of all these supermarkets like Shoprite, etc. So it is not about packaging but the people see the imported ones as cheaper because they are not quality meat.”

He emphasised the need for security system at the Customs checkpoints to enable them intensify efforts at blocking the entering of those unwholesome products from illegal borders.

The National President of Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), Dr. Ayoola Oduntan, said there are a lot of unscrupulous smugglers who inject frozen chicken with chemical so that it doesn’t go swarthy and they use a lot of chemicals like embalmment fluid, which can be harmful to health if one takes it continuously for a long time.

According to him, “this is the reason we recommend that people should ask for made-in-Nigeria chicken that is highly nutritious and be can best source of protein. So we live in ignorance and poor purchasing power because people don’t have enough disposable income, so they buy the cheapest thing they can get.

“Already, the government is working hard towards reducing the price of maize and soybeans. The chicken is expensive because the raw materials are expensive and the cost of doing business in Nigeria is very high, which is the reason the cost of chicken in Nigeria is high.

“As the government continues what it’s doing, for instance, the government is going to support importation of small quantity of maize to be able to reduce the price of maize in Nigeria that has gone up to between N140,000 and N150,000.”

So government is taking measures to reduce the cost of production and when the cost of production comes down, definitely, the cost of chicken and eggs will also come down; then we will be able to compete globally.”

PAN’s Vice President, South-South, Mrs. Helen Ajuwa, said people go for imported chicken because, to them, it is cheaper.

She noted: “Because for now cost of production is very expensive in terms of raw materials, drugs and feeds for taking care of birds and other poultry products. So to them it’s cheaper and everybody wants to make ends meet. They don’t care about the health challenge because they just want to buy the cheapest product.

“Though looking at it too, they think it’s cheaper but it is almost the same price despite the fact that we have our cost of production very high. If you look at the cartons of chicken now, 10kg is N12,000 to N13,000 and the so-called imported one is N1,000 or N1,200 per kg but our own chicken is about N1,200 to N1,300 per kg. So it’s almost the same thing but they think the imported one is cheaper and they intend to go for the cheapest one but if we can have some of these our raw materials’ prices subsidised, and if we can actually go into production more than we have been doing, like 60 per cent of our raw materials for poultry feeding is maize, it will reduce the cost of production of chicken at the end of the day.”

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