A 2015 internal memo given to SaharaReporters from Nigeria’s Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FSAN) office of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has revealed that tomato paste imported from China, and sold throughout Nigeria, falls far below national food safety standards.
This latest case of food fraud is not the first time Nigeria has dealt with substandard food product imports. In June 2015, NAFDAC issued a warning against consuming imported frozen poultry meat, which was found to be a “causative factor” in non-communicative diseases (NCDs) and antibiotics resistance. A 2012 study found that certain chocolates and candies imported in Nigeria contained dangerously high levels of metals.
FSAN discovered this after conducting a study in which 314 packets of tomato paste purchased in Lagos were analyzed in a laboratory to determine whether they had a tomato content of at least 28 percent, the minimum requirement specified by the Codex Alimentarius Standards and Nigerian Industrial Standards.
The results of the study revealed that 286 samples, or 91.1 percent of the samples examined, had tomato contents falling below the 28 percent minimum.
In the internal FSAN memorandum obtained by SaharaReporters, FSAN finds the implications of the test results “very alarming.” The findings of the study, the memorandum reads, indicate that tomato paste product companies are conspiring with Chinese tomato paste manufacturers to distribute substandard products to unsuspecting Nigerian consumers.
The implications of the results are especially alarming given that Nigeria consumes roughly 300,000 tons of tomato paste imported from China annually.
In light of these findings, FSAN recommends that retailers refrain from selling tomato paste imported from China until further notice.
The agency also recommends issuing a nationwide recall of all tomato paste brands imported from China, saying “Imported Tomato Paste brands in retail packs (tins or sachets) from China (High Risk Countries) should be suspended until further notice.”
FSAN calls on relevant federal ministries, the Nigerian Customs Service, and policymakers to look inwardly and encourage local production and reduce importation.
Importers of substandard tomato paste brands should be subjected to a reassessment of their manufacturing facilities before “any decisions on their source continuance” are made. Other importers of tomato paste should change their manufacturing source until effective measures are taken to reduce the importation of substandard tomato paste.
The memorandum notes that FSAN employees have been encouraged to study certificate programs in food fraud in order to deal with food safety problems more effectively.