Officials of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) saddled with the regulation and control of food, drugs, cosmetics, chemicals, medical devices, and packaged water know the dangers industrially produced trans-fats portents to the body but without enabling laws, they cannot refuse the entry of such products into Nigeria.
On its part, the officials of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) cannot refuse entry of the importation of trans-fat products due to the absence of an enabling law that makes it criminal to produce, and or distribute it in Nigeria.
This is because, the federal government is yet to formally gazette the Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 which makes the importation and distribution of products with trans-fat criminal. Medical experts have repeatedly warned on the dangers of trans-fat and its attendant implications on people’s health, saying it was the cause of rising illnesses across the country. Daily, Nigerians are embracing technology and industrially processed foods containing trans-fat which unfortunately contributes to many underlying diseases.
Dr Jerome Mafeni defined trans-fat “as a by-product of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and prevent them from becoming rancid. Please note that there are naturally small amounts of trans-fat in meats and dairy products from cows, sheep, and other ruminants”.
Mafeni, the Executive Director of Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED), maintained that trans-fat has damning effects on human health. “Trans-fat (TFAs) has severe effect on health such as cardiovascular problems, insulin resistance, infertility in women, compromised fetal development, and cognitive decline. As a matter of fact, TFAs has been linked as a trigger to rising cardiovascular diseases even as Nigeria’s cuisine is high in the use of fats and Oils. Unfortunately, majority of trans-fat in diets are industrially produced, contained in foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils”.
For people wondering how trans-fat is consumed, Dr Mafeni said “Any oil used more than twice is harmful. Reusing oil to fry chicken, meat, buns, akara, and the likes is actually harmful. Reused oils does harm because we accumulate poison into our bodies which turns around and becomes a concern, the very reason a lot of people are coming down with blood pressure, stroke, and other underlying health issues. This is because a lot of people add oil to an existing one and do not replace which contributes to trans-fat concerns”.
A cardiovascular patient who gave his name as Mr Chibuike Amadi told Leadership that since he suffered stroke two years ago and developed BP, his meager salary goes into buying of drugs and physiotherapy sessions.
Amadi said “two years ago I suffered a stroke, I have been on daily medication since which gulps a good chunk of what I earn as a civil servant. My wife had to change the children’s school to somewhere closer home and cheaper while I can continue with my treatment. There is no drug that I take that is cheaper than N1,500 coupled with the massaging I go for weekly”.
On her part, Mrs Nnenna Onwuzurike said she lost her husband after treating heart disease for over five years. She said “We spent a good chunk of our savings treating my husband, trying to keep him alive. Unfortunately, he died, since then it has been herculean taking care of our four children. As you can see, I make hair for people and can barely make enough to feed us. Sometimes, they help to hawk groundnut so we can make more to feed. But am always scared that they may be molested by abusive people pretending to be customers”, Mrs. Onwuzurike lamented.
Dr Mafeni said the frequent intake of foods high in trans-fat increase the chances of suffering from certain types of cancers e.g. breast cancer, cancer of large intestine (colon cancer) amongst others. He argued that most of the health concerns in Nigeria is trans-fat induced and appealed to people to change their diets and live healthier lives, adding that daily, many people were coming down with cancer related issues, with attendant huge financial costs.
He stated “there has been too much unnecessary loss of lives in Nigeria recently. We should not add to this list for something so easily preventable. The future of the country is in our hands, enough of the talking, the time for action is now. Federal government should gazette the Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 which will foster healthy eating choices for Nigerians”, Mafeni said.
Executive Director of the Nigerian Heart Foundation, Dr Kingsley Akinroye told Leadership that if gazette, the Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 “will add to the valuable work and impactful advocacy done by all stakeholders to regulate consumption of Fats & Oils in Nigeria, with the aims of reducing the Prevalence of Cardiovascular diseases in Nigeria.
Further, he said “yes, if gazette, it will empower SON and NAFDAC to stop the entry saying “it will add on to measures to implement the importation of trans-fat products into Nigeria. However, after passage of the law and gazetting, sustained advocacy and collaboration of all stakeholders is needed in our country Nigeria, all hands must be on the deck for continual engagement of policy makers, the industry and the Regulatory Agencies”.
On the benefit of eradication of trans-fat consumption, Akintoye said it will help reduce the number of people developing cardiovascular diseases. He said “Yes, with scientific available evidence globally, reduction of Trans- fat consumption will help Nigeria to achieve the goals and targets of WHO in reduction of risk factors for Cardiovascular Vascular Diseases”.
NAFDAC Director, Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Directorate, Mrs. Eva Edwards told Journalists at a training in Enugu that Nigeria is towing towards the WHO Replace Action package aimed at eliminating trans-fat or limiting its amount in industrially produced foods as stipulated by many countries.
According to her, when gazetted, the Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 restricts everyone from the manufacture, package, import, export, advertisement, distribution, display or offer for sale, sell or use edible fats and oils as specified in the first schedule to the regulation in Nigeria unless it has been registered in accordance with the provisions of the Fats and Oils Regulations.
The regulation provides that no vegetable oil without Vitamin A fortification to not below 20,000 I.U/kg will be distributed, sold, or used in Nigeria. Further, she said “fats, oils, and foods containing fats and oils intended for human consumption of which the content of trans-fat exceeds 2g per 100g of fat or oil are prohibited. No “trans-fat and cholesterol free” claims shall be made on the label or in an advertisement”, the section limits such claims.
Further, the Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 stipulates that products must have labelled nutritional fats stating clearly the amount and type of saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, mono and polyunsaturated fats and cholesterol in the product, that way, people can read and know the compositions before consumption. Edwards explained that it will yield to viable alternatives, even as it may lead to the need for incentives for compliant producers and read the label campaigns.
Following the launch of the WHO’s REPLACE action package, Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria began work on getting the government’s attention in order to key into the 2023 deadline for total elimination of trans fat. Precisely, in 2019, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) and other CSOs formed a coalition to pressure the government to take action through National Agency For Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) – the agency permitted by law to make regulate food.
Recently, during the 2022 ministerial press briefing for World No Tobacco Day, the Hon Minister of State for Health, Sen (Dr.) Olorunnimbe Mamora disclosed that the ministry had approved the regulations and transmitted same to the Ministry of Justice for gazetting.
However, efforts to get the current status of the document appears sketchy as efforts to get the reaction of the Director of Press in the office of the Attorney General of the Federation/Justice Minister proved abortive as she didn’t respond to the phone calls nor messages put across to her repeatedly.
But despite the yet to be gazette Fats and Oils Regulation 2022, Nigerians are coming down with avoidable complications from high consumption of trans-fat.
According to Dr Jerome Mafeni, trans-fat (TFAs) are toxic compounds that are found in foods and many fast foods in Nigeria such as fried foods (puff puff, pizza) deep-fried (Akara, fried meat, chicken, yam etc) plantain chips, cakes, pastries, including pre-packaged foods and vegetable oil.
He said “Trans-fat (TFAs) has severe effect on health such as cardiovascular problems, insulin resistance, infertility in women, compromised fetal development, and cognitive decline. As a matter of fact, TFAs has been linked as a trigger to rising cardiovascular diseases even as Nigeria’s cuisine is high in the use of fats and Oils. Unfortunately, majority of trans-fat in diets are industrially produced, contained in foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils”.
Mafeni explained that the reason companies and small medium use trans-fat is “because they are easy to use, inexpensive to use, they have a long shelf life, and give foods desirable taste”.
A Family Health Consultant, Dr Jideuma Egwim explained that trans-fat causes deposits which can be inside blood vessels and the wall. Egwim said “Trans-fat narrows the blood vessels which is very dangerous. If it continues, it will completely block the part of the body affected and becomes ischematic causing an impact to occur.
“If the impact occurs in the heart, it is heart attack; and if in the brain it causes stroke. When the trans-fat deposit is dislodged, it can travel into the blood vessels and block the small blood vessels which causes thromboembolisation. One thing is sure, effects of trans-fat causes sudden death in the environment. It also causes obesity which may hinder fertility” Egwim stated.
Executive Director Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), Akinbode Oluwafemi told Leadership that too much trans-fat is present in processed foods and many fast foods people consume, which causes an increase in heart diseases/problems. They are a major risk because they increase heart diseases.
Recently, the President of the Nigerian Cardiac Society (NCS), Dr Okechukwu Ogah raised an alarm over the rising cases of cardiovascular diseases in Nigeria, saying about 93 per cent of the adult population have high blood pressure.
Ogah, during the NCS 2022 Convocation of fellows and induction of full and associate members in Abuja said high blood pressure is one of the main causes of cardiovascular diseases adding that unhealthy lifestyle contributes to about 25 per cent.
He said “pulmonary artery disease is becoming rampant in Nigeria because of our unhealthy lifestyle, a lot of people now having obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes. Over 24 per cent of mortality in Nigeria is as a result of cardiovascular diseases”.
The problem is despite the rising cases of cardiovascular issues, trained medical personnel’s are dwindling due to migration.
According to Ogah, it is now 10,000 people to just a single Cardiologist, a reason one should make informed eating choices.
The Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 stipulates non manufacture, package, import, export, advertisement, distribution, and display for sale or use edible fats and oils as specified in the first schedule.
Defaulters upon conviction (when gazetted) risk imprisonment not exceeding one year while a corporate body risks a fine of five million Naira (N5,000,000).
Already, the Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 will address the growing concerns over trans-fat consumption but only of gazetted.
It is instructive to note that delaying the regulation put Nigerians at risk of increased consumption of this toxic compound without legal repercussions for food producers. With dwindling economic fortune and a possible global recession, Nigerians would likely incur more debt due to health challenges with trans-fat as risk factors. Social and economic tensions would build up and strain families thereby increasing their cost of living and lowering their quality of life. The best way to protect Nigerians is to gazette the Fats and Oils Regulation 2022 so NAFDAC and SON can effectively check the menace.