“food fraud”, a trend that is exploding globally as companies purposely mislead the public about products. In fact, it affects approximately 10% of all “commercially sold food products and costs the global food industry between $10 billion and $15 billion annually”.
And in Africa? Well, data focused on the continent is not readily available, but what does exist is not good:
Recent research by the Confederation of Tanzania Industries estimates that over 50% of all goods, including food, drugs and construction materials, imported into Tanzania are fake.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that rates could be between 10% and 50%, depending on the food category and the country.
One consequence of this occurred in late February:
14-year-olds Nahima and Yayaya died after eating tainted biscuits at a classmate’s birthday celebration in their school, located just outside Nigeria’s capital Abuja. Several other children in their class were hospitalized [sic].
Panic and threats from angry parents forced a temporary school closure, but to date, there have been no efforts to investigate the root causes nor track or shut down the responsible company.
And that’s just one example of fake food: In Nigeria there is milk powder with no animal protein and in Kenya, vegetable oil made of recycled oil unfit for human consumption.
But there’s more:
In Ghana, the palm oil is laced with a food coloring called Sudan IV which is widely recognized as a carcinogen. In Uganda, formalin —an embalming agent—is used to keep meat and fish free from flies and seemingly fresh for days.
Across Africa, there are incidences of plastic rice or nothing more than discarded rice chaff, packaged as high-grade rice, and corn powder dyed with Sudan IV, labeled as chili pepper.
While these are staples consumed to fulfil daily dietary needs, they are actually contributing to the “rising levels of malnutrition and cancer on the continent”.
So what needs to be done? Co-founder of Nigeria’s AACE Foods and Sahel Capital, Ndidi Nwuneli, argues that something is better than nothing:
African governments must set high regulatory standards for food content and labeling, track and prevent counterfeit imported and local produced food. Like the global war waged against counterfeit drugs, actions against food fraudsters must be bold, swift and unrelenting.
Consumers must remain vigilant, raise alarms once food fraud is detected, and demand better protection by regulatory agencies and the government.
Thankfully, South Africa is one country that’s ahead of the curve:
South Africa has enforced extensive labelling regulations. It has prohibited Sudan I to IV as a food coloring, and regulatory agencies have removed products with this dangerous chemical from shelves.