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HEALTH

Food Poisoning: Concerns Over Rising Cases Of Deaths

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Stakeholders have raised concerns over the continuous wrong application of pesticides and additives on farm produce and livestock, which has led to deaths of many, writes JULIANA AGBO.

As a result of continuous wrong application of pesticides and additives on farm produce and livestock, there have been increasing cases of food poisoning leading to deaths and diseases that has raised concerns among regulators and stakeholders in Nigeria.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that there are three million cases of pesticide poisoning each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries including Nigeria.

According to WHO, the application of pesticides is often not very precise, and unintended exposures usually results.  Humans are also vulnerable to the harmful effects of these pesticides exposure. Even very low levels of exposure during spray may have adverse health effects in children.

The are reports that traders of agricultural products have formed the habit of indiscriminately spraying pesticides and other chemicals on food items to stop the spread of bugs and other insects.

LEADERSHIP recalls that the European Union banned the exportation of dried beans from Nigeria in June 2015 on grounds that the produce contained high level of pesticide considered dangerous to human health.

Worried by the extended ban, which was supposed to last for six months, stakeholders such as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry Mines and Agriculture, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria have reportedly been initiating programmes and consulting with the EU towards lifting it.

It would also be recalled that bean traders in response to the widespread attack of weevils on stored beans in various parts of Nigeria last year,  started using ‘Sniper,’ a toxic pesticide containing 2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate (DDVP), to prevent weevil infestation.

Unfortunately, 2018 was not the first time the country witnessed the widespread use of harmful chemicals to control pests.

But following a public outcry over this practice, and to safeguard public health, the Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS), in a swift response released a statement instructing bean traders to stop using the harmful product and withdraw all bean seeds that were preserved with Sniper.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe, also raised an alarm that the country was in a serious crisis due to the use of harmful chemicals like Sniper to preserve beans and other agricultural produces.

He said, “Apart from Sniper, some traders also use aluminium phosphate to kill weevils in beans. Others use calcium carbide to ripen fruits. Dye is added to palm oil by some people. A number of poultry farmers use formaldehyde to improve the appearance of chickens to boost sales.

Analysing these effect of chemicals on food, a scientist, Chidi Ike, said human poisoning and their related illnesses are clearly the highest price paid for pesticide use.

He said Pesticide exposure can cause a wide range of acute and chronic health effects, saying pesticides have significant chronic health effects, including cancer, neurological effects, diabetes, respiratory diseases, fetal diseases, and genetic disorders.

In the last three years, the federal government has invested time and resources in reviving the agricultural sector in view of its huge potentials in boosting the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as well as creating jobs and addressing the issues of food insecurity.

Government’s efforts have started producing dividends as can be witnessed in the reduction in rice importation via the provision of quality of seeds and other implements to enable farmers ply their trade in the best possible ways.

One of the crops which the country has the comparative advantages in producing which can equally raise the GDP and halt capital flight is beans otherwise called cowpea.

It is no longer news that Nigeria is the largest producer of beans globally as well as the largest consumers of beans. But in recent time, Nigeria’s position as the number one producer is under serious threat as the country has an annual deficit of over 500,000 tons and this is augmented with imports from Niger Republic.

However, imports from Niger Republic is not only recorded as threat to cowpea production in Nigeria, but the use of toxic pesticide containing 2,2-dichlorovinyl dimethyl phosphate (DDVP), to prevent weevil infestation has been recorded as serious threat to human lives.

However, efforts of Nigerian scientists at the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria have provided solution on how to bridge this deficiency.

After ten years of research work, involving both confined and farmer’s managed trials, the National Biosafety Management Agency, Nigeria’s sole authority charged with the regulation of genetically modified organisms has approved the new beans variety. The approved variety is said to have immunity to resist maruca vitrata, a pod boring insect that has been the night mare for beans farmers over many years.

The researchers were able to engineer beans in such as way that it can now withstand maruca infestation using a gene from a harmless bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis that humans have been consuming over the years without any effect.

The implication of this research is that previously, farmers use dangerous and poisonous pesticides to keep the maruca at bay by spraying their beans farms up to 10 times in a farming season.

But with the genetic modification, the new beans variety became known as Pod Borer Resistant Cowpea (PBR Cowpea) and has the ability to withstand the insect meaning that farmers no longer have to spray their farms up to 10 times but just twice to wade off other insects. This confirms the fact that GMOs are safer for our health and our environment.

A conservative estimate provided by the researchers who developed the PBR Cowpea noted that a minimum of N16 billion is expected to be saved by the country from adopting this new technology, and Nigeria is expected to earn as much as N48 billion if this technology is adopted.

According to them: “For this variety, the quick arithmetic made showed that Nigeria will save annually a minimum of N16 billion from the adoption of this new variety if it is released, and in terms of yield increase, Nigeria can get as much as N48 billion as a result of planting this new variety”.

“The figures came from 20 per cent yield increase over the normal cowpea, and by growing 1 million hectares, and a hectare will yield N120,000 per ton, and if calculated, it will get to N48 billion.”

An expert, Adamu Bello, said about 135 pesticide chemicals are imported annually into the country, adding that they are the major causes of cancer, cardiovascular disease, dermatitis, birth defects, morbidity, impaired immune function, neurobehavioral disorder and allergy sensitization reaction.

Bello who is a scientists, said the occurrence of pesticides in an environment as a result of the indiscriminate or intentional use has resulted in its persistence in the environment, thereby affecting the ecosystems and non target organisms.

He said, “The best way to save the health of Nigerians is to remove chemicals from our ecosystem and simultaneously tremendously improve the yield of our farmers is to adopt GMOs which have been proven all over the world and by Nigeria’s National Biosafety Management Agency be safe for consumption.

 

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