Time to stop dumping of sugar, sweeteners in Nigeria
APPARENTLY setting agenda for the concerned new ministers, who were sworn in last week, stakeholders in the food and agro-allied industry are increasingly speaking out over the dumping of sugar and sweeteners in Nigeria, especially when local industries capable of fulfilling this obligation abounds in the country.
In the first instance, over-nutrition has become as important for public health as under-nutrition.
According to the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission For Africa, ECA, Carlos Lopes, “Africans (nay Nigerians) are eating like the rest of the world, but what they are eating isn’t necessarily good for them.”
All over the world there is serious concern over consumption of sugar and sweeteners. Consumption of sugar and most sweeteners is related to fatal diseases like diabetes mellitus, cardiac problems, cases of high triglyceride and cholesterol, obesity, bacterial infections, kidney, liver ailments and so on.
The ECA Chief said that increasing production of local foods could lead to reduced costs. “Perhaps more countries should learn lessons for Nigeria’s Cassava Inclusion Policy, which promotes composite bread flour made up of cassava and wheat flour creating a healthier loaf. The effect is to cut wheat imports by introducing a cassava flour inclusion. Domestic production and processing of Cassava has been stimulated and jobs are being created.”
There were some exceptions of course. For example, Ghana’s diet remained relatively diverse and traditional. A contributing factor was the fact that during the same period of the mid 1980’s, Ghana raised food production per capita by more than 80%. Food supply grew faster than the population! Making it largely self-sufficient in staples such as cocoyam, cassava, sweet potatoes and yam.
The Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr. Paul Orhii recently revealed that after a recent survey of 85 tomato paste brands sold in various markets across the country, many of those imported were clearly below international standards and specifications.
In most countries sugar and other sweeteners are considered as potential health hazard.
Under public pressure & expert advice governments are imposing high duty on sugar and any product using sugar.
Brazil, the biggest producer of cane sugar, is experiencing a glut in sugar production and exporting at all time cheapest price.
Some governments are giving export subsidy for exporting these products.
Production cost of sugar and other sweeteners is very low for using different cheap sources of starch and production processes.
Data from the Nigerian Association Of Chambers Of Commerce, Industry, Mines & Agriculture (NACCIMA) said Nigeria is allowing import of sugar and sweeteners at lowest possible import duty tariff.
Even substandard products like molasses from sugar refinery waste is imported into the country and used in Biscuit production. Unrefined brown sugar meant for breweries for making malt drinks are using refining. Both item is known to contain iron, heavy metals and other wastes not suitable for use in food (example: Waste Molasses from refining of brown sugar in Tin Can Island is delivered free for evacuating from the plant.
The same molasses is reported to be used in biscuit factories with malt flavor added to it).
Information obtained from the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) reveals that Sugar or sweeteners can be described as a necessary evil. The general belief that adult Nigerians do not like sugar and sweeteners is a myth. Sugar and sweeteners in different forms is pervading most food, beverages and confectioneries. Sweetener contents of all reputed soft drinks like Coca Cola, Pepsi, Fanta, to name a few, are alarming. Sugar & most sweeteners are just calories without any food value. Even the so-called Zero Sugar drinks are untrue. As the population age with these food & beverages in vogue, the resulting heath problem will be enormous.
Thus, government needs to: –
a. Impose very high import duty/levy on all imported sweeteners like refined & unrefined Sugar, Glucose, Inverted sugar, Malto dextrin syrup, et c.
b. Import of unrefined sugar must be restricted to refining only.
c. Use of unrefined sugar & Molasses from the waste of sugar refineries should be banned in food or beverage.
d. All food, beverages and confectioneries produced using sugar & sweeteners should be taxed to make it less affordable. Most of them are not essential food, rather lifestyle vanities.
e. Customers should be enlightened to read the type & quantity of sweetener contents of what they consume.
f. Promote, where necessary, use of Malt extract, High maltose & glucose syrup, made from enzymatic conversion malted grains like Sorghum grown in Nigeria, since these sweeteners contain lots of protein, amino acid and dietary fibers in addition to natural sweetness. Natural Honey is also another alternative, locally available.
Some companies in Nigeria are known to be producing quality Malt Extract, Maltose & Glucose syrup from Sorghum by total enzymatic conversion. Government should encourage more such industries to spring up in the country using local resources instead of allowing dumping of sweet poison at ease.
Good care in food selection and habit in early stage will save many health problems at latter age.
These above steps and others will ensure good health for the citizen, reduce health care cost, save needed foreign exchange and increase government revenue.