Fanta-and-Sprite

Beyond the Osborne dollars, we can do well in paying more attention to the issue of public health (see how many lives we have lost to a Meningitis outbreak that could have been prevented if only we had explored preventive measures years back), especially with the sorry state of healthcare in the country.


Just before we buried our noses in the Osborne Dollars, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) in Nigeria made public the outcome of its investigation into possible safety issues in select soft drinks. The Kilimanjaro of dollars before us has obviously blocked our view and the discourse of other equally matters simply receded into the valley in the face of the loot stashed all over the place.

Following the court judgement which came raising questions about the level of benzoic acid in some soft drinks and asking NAFDAC to make the bottler post a warning about dangers of the consumption of the srinks alongside Vitamin C, in view of concerns raised about benzene formation, I took it upon myself to dig further.

Some of the many questions I raised in my previous interventions include:

● How can it be said that the benzoic acid level is higher in Nigeria because we are in the tropics, when the level in Ghana is the same as that of temperate UK?

● How can it be that the level of benzoic acid will be higher here when studies have revealed the tendency for benzene formation at elevated temperature?

● Importantly, I also made the point that a study in Ghana found that a number of soft drinks on the shelves there had levels of benzoic acid in them considerably higher (as high as 450 mg) than the permissible limit of 150 mg.

I have argued that NAFDAC had been negligent and should have proceeded to conduct tests the moment concern was raised about the benzoic acid level in the soft drinks taken to the UK in 2008, rather than investing itself in a suit with no direct beneficial interest to consumers.

One could not tell what the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) has been doing about the matter, as it is seemingly unbothered about the concerns raised in other parts of the world about this preservative found in our soft drinks.

foraminifera

What NAFDAC and SON should have done, what the Ministry of Health claims to have been doing for many weeks now, if we understand it, is what the Consumer Protection Council has done. It has commissioned tests on select soft drinks in the market.

Now, here are some of what the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) found out:

1. That there exists benzoic acid of extremely low levels in some of the drinks surveyed. However, two of the sampled drinks had levels beyond the prescribed limit. I had raised this concern as a result of similar findings from other countries, especially Ghana.

It is difficult to tell exactly what NAFDAC, SON and the Ministry of Health, which should be primary drivers of this review, are doing, but with what is out there, one cannot but call for caution.


2. The levels of benzoic acid in samples from the Northern zones were lower than those of the Southern zones (effectively nullifying the argument that had been made by a Nigerian Bottler that the level needed to be higher where temperature is higher and lower in temperate regions).

3.”Contrary to the claims that climatic conditions is a factor for the present limit of Benzoic Acid in soft drinks in Nigeria, four tropical countries, namely Ghana, Pakistan, India and Malaysia with climates similar to Nigeria’s have lower approved limits for Benzoic Acid, ranging from 100mg/kg to 150mg/kg as opposed to the NIS’ limit of 250mg/kg for Nigeria.” This is a point I had made, drawing attention as well to the fact that prescribed limit keeps going down, which must be for a reason.

4. That Sunset Yellow has been banned in several countries, including Sweden, Norway, Finland and Australia because of its adverse effects, while some others across the world have labelling requirements for its use. That, to me, is cause for concern.

5. “The consumption of soft drinks containing Benzoic Acid in combination with other factors, including but not limited to storage, distribution methods and the presence of Ascorbic Acid, could potentially result in adverse effects.” (This reinforces our point about the danger we face on account of the elevated temperature and the manner of display and storage here).

There is this warning from CPC though: “Benzoic Acid is known to be safe in small quantities. Like most chemicals that have toxic properties, the effect of benzoic acid depends on its concentration. The higher the level of Benzoic Acid, the higher the potential for adverse effects, including skin or other ephemeral irritation and discomfort, to neurological disorders in children and other physiological diagnosis to consumers.”

It also warns that: “Sunset Yellow and other food colorants are regulated additives and are ordinarily safe for consumption. Sunset Yellow is known to cause side effects such as runny nose, nasal congestion, hives, allergies, kidney tumours, chromosomal damage, hyperactivity, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, attention deficit disorder and a loss of appetite or taste for food”.

CPC says it has informed NAFDAC and SON about the outcome of its investigation and recommended regulatory action and review of “Benzoic Acid limits in soft drinks, as the current standard, which has been in existence since 2008, is overdue for review”, particularly when there is an understanding that there ought to be a review every five years. I had made the point that we urgently need this in the light of the peculiar conditions here. The tests by the CPC was carried out at Sheda Science and Technology Complex (SHESTCO), a laboratory under the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology. One wonders then why it is so difficult to conduct periodic checks on these products.

It is difficult to tell exactly what NAFDAC, SON and the Ministry of Health, which should be primary drivers of this review, are doing, but with what is out there, one cannot but call for caution.

Beyond the Osborne dollars, we can do well in paying more attention to the issue of public health (see how many lives we have lost to a Meningitis outbreak that could have been prevented if only we had explored preventive measures years back), especially with the sorry state of healthcare in the country.

As a matter of fact, the only reason this article has the above title is to get the needed attention as health is hardly of concern to the Nigerian who relishes himself to be some cat with multiple lives. We will rather leave healthcare to God while we count our Osborne dollars in plain sight, without consideration for hand gloves. What does it matter, anyway? It never does. But then, it is a reflection of the little concern we have for health just as it tells on how low we have sunk – stashing money away in various places, while thousands fall to terror attacks and diseases that can be easily taken care of through better care and vaccination.

Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian Communications Consultancy and publishers of Africa Enterprise. Twitter: @simboolorunfemi