A Civil Society Organisation, CSO, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, CAPPA, raised alarm over dangerous food chemicals Nigerians consume daily.

The alarm was raised by the Executive Director, CAPPA, Akinbode Oluwafemi, who was represented by Director of Programmes, Philip Jakpor, at a media conference, as Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark World Food Day 2020 with the theme, ‘Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together. Our actions, Our Future’, in Abuja.

According to Oluwafemi with the little food at the disposal of Nigerians, most of them have continued to consume foods harmful to their health unknowingly on daily basis, but they need to raise the awareness about these trans-fats that have caused serious damage to vital organs of the body including the liver, kidneys, heart, blood vessels, colon, lungs, sight, skin, and also increase of body weight, joint pains, effects on men and women fertilities, and others.

He also pointed that trans-fatty acids are common found in fast, packaged, baked, and all sorts of processed foods best described as junk foods, and that there is the likelihood that more people, especially the young upwardly mobile are at risk of a major trans fats- induced health catastrophe.

He said: “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 an 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.”

According to him (Oluwafemi) a well-publicized report some weeks ago re-echoed what has been said over time because the report alerted that more Nigerians are now getting heart attacks and strokes from consumption of imported vegetable oil that has ‘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 Organisation (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 the health and saving lives: WHO estimates that every year, trans-fat intake leads to more than 500,000 deaths of people from cardiovascular disease”, he stated.

He also made a call to the government, relevant regulatory authorities, and stakeholders including the media to rise up to come up with legislations and intensify awareness of the danger most Nigerians at all strata of life consume daily and expressed optimism that “a Trans fat-free Nigeria is possible.”

“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 the 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 the 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; and 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.”

Also speaking on the issue was the Project Adviser for Trans Fat Acids Elimination, Network for Health Equity and Development, NHED, Dr Jerome Mafeni, who explained that Trans-fats are fats produced from the industrial process of hydrogenation, whereby molecular hydrogen (H2) is added to vegetable oil, converting liquid fat to a semi-solid and stable fat that have a long shelf life.

“It is therefore important on this World Food Day (Friday, October 16), that we also speak out about the importance of increasing access to healthy and nutritious food for all, including food that is free of toxic chemicals such as trans fatty acids (also referred to as Trans Fats for short).

“Improving access to safe and nutritious food is important especially for poor and vulnerable communities who are hit hardest by the ongoing pandemic and by the harmful effects unhealthy foods have on consumers.

“Food products containing unsaturated fats are susceptible to rancidity with attendant unpleasant taste and odor as a manifestation of their short shelf life.  This thus led to research to create a more stable form of unsaturated fat that had the potential fora significantly extended shelf life and improving the value of a variety of foods.

“Trans fats have been linked to increases in the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancers, dementia, and death.  According to new estimates by the World Health Organization, over 250, 000 persons died yearly resulting from complications associated with the consumption of foods high in trans fats.  This statistic has led to the call for the global elimination of industrially-produced trans-fat by 2023.

“The role of dietary fats and oils in human nutrition is one of the most complex and controversial areas of investigations in nutrition science. The joint WHO/FAO Export Consultation on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Disease held at Geneva in 2002 (WHO, 2003 and Nishida &Yany, 2009) recognized that the growing epidemic of the chronic disease afflicting both developed and developing countries was related to dietary and lifestyle changes.

“In the last two decades, rapid expansion in a number of relevant scientific fields and in the amount of population-based epidemiological data has clarified the role of diet in preventing and controlling the morbidity and premature mortality resulting from various non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

According to him non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are the world’s leading cause of death. In 2016, they were responsible for almost 40 million deaths, which is approximately three-quarters of all deaths. Cardiovascular (Heart) disease was the main killer, accounting for nearly half of all NCD deaths.

“Many of these deaths were in people under the age of 70 years, and most occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Cardiovascular diseases are largely preventable by eliminating tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, adopting a healthy diet, and being physically active. Industrially produced trans-fatty acids (TFA) causes heart disease and death, are not necessary for food, and can be eliminated. Industrially produced TFA is used in baked and fried foods, pre-packaged snacks, and certain cooking oils and fats that are used at home, in restaurants, and in street foods.

“Elimination of industrially produced TFA from food is feasible, and some countries are taking action, although until recently this has been mostly in wealthy countries. Efforts need to move beyond high-income countries so that everyone can benefit from TFA elimination. In May 2018, WHO launched the REPLACE action package to help governments eliminate TFA from their nations’ food supplies and replace these harmful compounds with healthier oils and fats by the year 2023″, he stated.

He also made a call on various actors in the regulatory, agricultural, manufacturing, processing, marketing, media, religious circles to rise to the occasion to safeguard the lives of Nigerians.

“I will need to reiterate that this is no ordinary World Food Day, and we need anything but ordinary action. Thus, whether you’re a government employee, private businessman, NGO staff, journalist, or member of a civil society organization, we need you to spread the call for action through activities and events (even online, if COVID-19 health measures advise against physical gatherings) that will bring greater attention to the dangers of TFAs and the need for the Nigerian Government through NAFDAC, the Ministry of Health and other relevant authorities to expedite actions that have already commenced towards enacting relevant regulations for the control and elimination of Trans Fat from the country’s food system.

“Everyone across our food chain has an important role to play – and that means you too! Through your everyday actions, you can also become a food hero and make healthy food and sustainable habits a part of your lifestyle. This World Food Day, please tell political decision-makers and food makers to restrict and #REPLACE trans-fat, to expand access to healthy foods”, he added.

 

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