The repeated call to consumers by the National Agency for Food, Drug, Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to beware of fruits treated with calcium carbide [CC] at a press briefing recently in Lagos readily brought to my mind, an encounter with a fruit seller.
Out to buy fresh fruits, I saw this fruit retailer pushing a wheel barrow filled with mangos. Majority of the fruit were yellowish green. Having heard of how some unscrupulous farmers and traders use CC, a material most commonly used for welding purposes to artificially get fruit to ripe, and not willing to be a victim, I cheerfully asked the hawker, as if CC was a good thing, if he used CC on the fruits.
“Ahaaa,” nodding his head while smiling at me, “na carbide I use; that is why the mangos are very ripe and soft.” Hearing that, and confirming my fears, I tacitly crossed over to the other side of the road telling him I wanted fruits that got ripe naturally.
This clearly shows that most of the farmers and retailers do not even know that the usage of CC on fruits is a criminal action. They do not even know that the consumption of fruits treated with the chemical is very injurious to the health of the consumers. They are only using it to get as much fruits as possible to ripe and sell for quick profits.
To tackle this issue of ignorance, NAFDAC has pledged to embark on massive education publicity and sensitisation of farmers, retailers and the general public to warn them of the inherent dangers of using and consuming CC treated fruits.
Speaking at a press briefing, the chairman of the newly inaugurated NAFDAC Governing Board, Alhaji Inuwa Abdul-Kadir, regretted that those engaging in the wrong use of CC do not even know the health implications, “what they are out for is to sell and make money.”
The chairman, who was on a working tour of the agency’s facilities and offices in Lagos, said the two days of the tour has actually opened their eyes to the weaknesses and strengths of the agency to know the areas to focus on in order to move the agency forward.
Describing the overall tour as impressive, Abdul-Kadir said that he was impressed that despite the dearth of staff and operational machineries in the agency that the existing staff were so committed to have achieved much.
Addressing the press, members of the Governing Council and the top management staff of the agency, the chairman said that there was need for staff motivation and the upgrade of the equipment.
“We are concerned about the welfare of our work force because we cannot achieve anything without them. Many of our staff are vulnerable to so many things, for example inducement. If they are not well taken care of, businessmen may force them to compromise,” he stated.
Unfortunately, he said that businessmen can go to any length in order to get their products to the market and if NAFDAC staff are not well taken care of, they can be induced.
Speaking further, he lamented that most facilities in the agency were not working at their optimal level. “Our laboratories need expansion, upgrading in terms of new technologies but over all, what we saw is inspiring.” He, however, appealed to the staff to understand adding that this is not the best of times in the country.
“The council has resolved to work hand in hand with the management of the agency,” he said, adding that together they will do all they can to save this country while also disclosing that they have the support of other sister government agencies to achieve this.
Reacting to the absence of NAFDAC staff at the entry ports in the country, Abdul-Kadir said it was contrary to the laws establishing the regulatory agency.
He described as illegal and unlawful, the act of removing the agency from the ports and blamed the importation of banned unwholesome foods and drugs into the country on the absence of NAFDAC officials at the points of entry into the country. “Since we left the ports, so many of these drugs have passed through the ports, it is beyond homicide. These drugs are capable of killing so many lives.”
Citing the presence of Tramadol and similar drugs in the country, he said that they have become a big nuisance and were being imported into the country to sustain the activities of kidnappers, hoodlums’ etcetera, stressing that without the consumption of such drugs, no normal human being will engage in such abominable activities.
“All concerned, not just the agency, must put a stop to the importation of harmful products into the country. The alarming situation is that this country is being used as a conduit pipe to other African countries because of the vulnerability of our ports.
“We have to stand up to this occasion. I appeal to all in the country especially the federal government to do everything to halt these nefarious activities. We shall motivate our staff and prosecute the culprits no matter who they are because we are saving our generation,” emphasised the chairman.
Expressing her delight over the establishment of the agency’s governing council, the Director General [DG] of NAFDAC, Professor Moji C. Adeyeye, said that the agency has suffered for many years due to the absence of a governing board and a substantive DG.
“I am happy about the board. We have met twice this week. After the two days’ tour, we had debriefing and we shall seek government and nongovernment sources to ensure funding.”
She regretted the lack of operational equipment in the agency, noting that many of the directors do not even have work computers. The DG noted that NAFDAC is a complex organisation but with ready- to-work staff who are being frustrated due to poor welfare package.
Describing the high presence of Tramadol medication in the country, she said it is an epidemic destroying our children. “There is need for grassroots sensitisation. Our pilot programme is to reach 54,000 young people.
“NAFDAC is not allowed to be at the port and people import killers. That is why we have problems with unwholesome food drugs like Tramadol.”
Meanwhile, the agency has warned farmers and the general public against the dangers of using CC for ripening fruits such as banana, mango, plantain, orange and cashew.
According to the agency, consuming such fruits can cause heart, kidney and liver failure. On how to identify such fruits, the agency noted that naturally ripened fruits usually have brown and black spots while those artificially ripened have traces of powdery substances and peel off quickly.
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