Of unga politics and the perennial food insecurity

Thursday, November 7th, 2019 07:00 |

The decision by Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) to ban  five brands of maize flour has thrown consumers into a panic over their health.

The quality agency said Dola, Kifaru, Starehe, Jembe and 210 maize flour brands contained high levels of aflatoxins and thus do not meet the required standards.

This came barely a week after Kebs as ordered manufacturers to recall seven peanut butter brands from the market, citing high levels of aflatoxin. 

The bans invoke fears that have prevailed over the years that Kenyans have been exposed to dangerous levels of aflatoxins in maize products, meat products, dairy products, groundnuts  and other foodstuff and the subsequent links increasing cancer cases in the country. When consumed, aflatoxin can cause liver damage and cancer.

 Food production, security and safety are inextricably connected in the agricultural value chain right from the farmer’s level to post-harvest and marketing of produce.

Aflatoxins are produced by fungi and grains not properly dried or stored and thrive in warm and moist conditions. The issue of aflatoxins is a global problem that has resulted in stringent mycotoxin regulations after unacceptable levels were discovered in poultry, milk and meat products from contaminated livestock feeds. 

In Kenya, deaths have been reported in various parts of the country after people ate food contaminated with aflatoxins. Indeed, the Agriculture ministry has announced plans to spend Sh200 million on Alfasafe, a bio-tool to fight aflatoxins in affected areas.

Maize millers whose brands were banned and licences suspended  have accused Kebs of doing a sub-standard tests that prompted the ban. They claim their internal auditing and external independent laboratories reveal results contrary to Kebs’ and that aflatoxin levels in their products are below the allowed maximum limit by Kenyan standards.

While the millers and the standards bureau engage in blame game, it would be prudent to let the experts be the judge and jury, given the health of Kenyans is at stake.

Production and trade in food has monumental impact on the health and economies of nations. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 600 million people become ill and 420,000 die each year from food-borne diseases.

Losses in productivity and traded and treatment costs amount to  $100 billion annually, mainly in low and middle income countries. In the complex agricultural production and supply chain, it is extremely essential that food is kept safe, is of good quality and is suitable for consumption. 

As Kebs, the millers and the ministries of Agriculture and Health confront the latest revelations relating to food safety, they must place the interests of the consumers first. Food safety standards and regulations must be strictly adhered to at all points along the agricultural value chain.

All the players and stakeholders must abide by the 188-member countries Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC), the global reference point run jointly by WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for food producers, processors, consumers, national food safety agencies and the international food trade.

Kenyans are closely watching how the players will engage to ensure they have fully adopted the CAC food safety measures involving scientific principles, experts, consumer organisations, production and processing  industries, food control officials and traders.

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