TRANS FAT-FREE NIGERIA IS POSSIBLE!

Speech by Akinbode Oluwafemi at the Press Briefing to Mark the 2020 World Food Day

Gentlemen and Ladies of the Press,

Thank you for honoring our invitation today as Nigeria joins the rest of the world in marking the World Food Day. To refresh our memories, the World Food Day is celebrated on 16 October annually to etch forever in our memories the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945.

The underlying message to governments, producers, consumers, and all of us every year is that the task of ensuring the wholesomeness of our food from the farm to the table is a shared responsibility.  The theme of this year’s commemoration: Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together, reminds us of this shared responsibility.

Ordinarily the focus of our engagement today would have been how Nigerians hunger amidst abundance of arable land in the country. Yes, that is still true. But because of the urgency of the present situation, we must emphasize even more, how the little that Nigerians consume continues to harm their health. Fatalities attributable to trans fats consumption in Nigeria just a decade ago was 1,300 persons. But with the upsurge  in  the consumption of fast foods, packaged foods, baked foods and all sorts of processed foods  best  described as junk foods there is the likelihood that more people, especially the young upwardly mobile are at risk of a major trans fats- induced health catastrophe.

A well-publicized report some weeks ago re-echoed what we have said over time. It alerted that more Nigerians are now getting heart attacks and strokes from consumption of imported vegetable oil that have high trans fats content.

The world over, critical attention is being paid to what people eat. Food is a necessity of life just like the air that we need for respiration. The public health of a nation largely depends on what its citizens consume.

In 2018 the World Health Organization (WHO) while unveiling its REPLACE initiative, called on governments to remove trans-fat from food supplies in a bid to have a healthy population.  It particularly noted that “Eliminating trans fats is key to protecting health and saving lives: WHO estimates that every year, trans fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease”.

A host of countries especially in Europe and America have heeded this call and have either banned consumption of trans fat completely or reduced the quantity considerably in foods produced for the consumption of its citizens. The EU for instance, adopted a regulation on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 to curb trans-fat amounts in products like snack food as part of efforts to fight heart disease and strokes in that continent. The EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, set the limit of trans fats at two grams of industrially produced trans fats per 100 grams of fat in food from April 2, 2021.

Nigeria, with a huge and vulnerable population must not take the back seat in the global war against trans fats. Nigeria must set the pace on regulation of this silent killer on the African continent. While we commend the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) for the release of guidelines and regulations on use of fats and oils, as well as pre-packaged foods, water and ice labeling, it is now time to speed up the process to check the trans fats time bomb.

As we mark the World Food Day 2020 we are re-emphasizing the need for the following:

  • The Governing Council of the NAFDAC should speedily approve the guidelines and regulations on the use of fats and oils, as well as pre-packaged foods, water and ice labeling which has strong provisions on trans fats
  • Increased awareness on the dangers of consuming foods high in trans fats
  • Compelling the oils and fats and the fast-food industry to comply with global best practice in relation to trans fats in the processing of their products

Dear colleagues, we make bold to say that a Trans fat-free Nigeria is possible. Like the theme of this year says, we can make it happen when we work together.

Thanks

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