NAFDAC: Agency For Security Fees Or Safe Foods?

A drug or drug product is regarded as adulterated if:(a) The methods used in, or the facilities or controls used for its manufacture, processing, packing, or holding do not conform to or are not operated or administered in conformity with current Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to assure that such drugs meet the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act as to the safety, and has the identity and strength, and meets the quality and purity characteristics which it purports or is represented to possess.(b) It purports to be or is represented as a drug, the name of which is recognized in an official compendium, has its strength differing from, or its quality or purity falling below the standard set forth in such compendium.(c) Consists in whole or in part any filthy, putrid or decomposed substance, or has been prepared, packaged or stored under unsanitary conditions where it may have been contaminated with filth or whereby it may have been rendered injurious to health, or is packed in a container which is composed in whole or in part of any injurious or deleterious substance which may render the content injurious to health, or bears or contains for the purposes of colouring any colour other than one which is prescribed, or contains any harmful or toxic substance which may render it injurious to health, or has been mixed with some other substance so as to reduce its quality or strength.

When people are taking fake or substandard antihypertension drugs, their blood pressure will continue to rise—because what they are taking is rubbish—until they go down with stroke or even die. Some of these fake drugs contain nothing. Some of them contain chalk, milk in capsules, and some of them contain little of the active ingredients. The fakers are very smart. They know for instance that a drug like chloroquine is bitter and that if they don’t put a little chloroquine in their fake chloroquine, people will know that it is not chloroquine. So instead of the 200 mg chloroquine that should be in the tablet, they will put 41 mg. That is what we have been getting from our analysis. During the Indo-African health summit last year; we sensitised and convinced the Indian health authorities to help us stop exportation of substandard drugs to Nigeria.

Fake drugs were not only killing people [but] the drugs were also killing businesses. Industries have been revived. Prescription drugs have no ability whatsoever to prevent disease; they are given to patients who already have the symptoms of disease and are simply looking to cover them up. So what are advertisements for drugs like Plavix, Nexium, Crestor and Vitorin — accompanied by several pages of fine print — doing in a magazine like this? It probably has a lot to do with how ubiquitous prescription drug ads have become in all avenues of the popular press these days.

It’s true that, in modern medicine, the prevention of disease has taken a back seat to the treatment of disease, as conventional medical doctors focus more and more on treating the symptoms of illness rather than determining its root cause. This is reflected in the popular media by the huge numbers of direct-to-consumer drug ads aimed at convincing patients themselves to ask their doctors about this drug or that drug.

Of course, this is how prescription drugs have come to be viewed in many Nigerians’ minds — as part of a healthy lifestyle. People think if they are treating their health ailments with drugs, they are taking responsibility for their health, when, in fact, the opposite is usually true. In reality, they are only masking the symptoms of whatever health problems they are experiencing, while neglecting to fix the real problem, which is usually related to diet or lifestyle. But most people don’t see this. They don’t think of prescription drugs as a sign of health weakness, but rather as a means of taking care of themselves You may want to think twice before eating your next sandwich on white bread. Studies show that alloxan, the chemical that makes white flour look “clean” and “beautiful,” destroys the beta cells of the pancreas. That’s right; you may be devastating your pancreas and putting yourself at risk for diabetes, all for the sake of eating “beautiful” flour. Is it worth it?

Scientists have known of the alloxan-diabetes connection for years; in fact, researchers who are studying diabetes commonly use the chemical to induce the disorder in lab animals. In the research sense, giving alloxan to an animal is similar to injecting that animal with a deadly virus, as both alloxan and the virus are being used specifically to cause illness. Every day, consumers ingest foods made with alloxan-contaminated flour. Would they just as willingly consume foods tainted with a deadly virus? Unless they had a death wish, they probably would not. Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware of alloxan and its potentially fatal link to diabetes because these facts are not well publicized by the food industry.

How does alloxan cause diabetes? According to food scientists from Disease, the uric acid derivative initiates free radical damage to DNA in the beta cells of the pancreas, causing the cells to malfunction and die. When these beta cells fail to operate normally, they no longer produce enough insulin, or in other words, they cause one variety of adult-onset type to diabetes. Alloxan’s harmful effects on the pancreas are so severe that the Textbook of Natural Medicine calls the chemical “a potent beta-cell toxin.” However, even though the toxic effect of alloxan is common scientific knowledge in the research community, the NAFDAC still allows companies to use it when processing foods we ingest.

The NAFDAC and the white flour industry could counter-argue that, if alloxan were to cause diabetes, a higher proportion of Nigerians would be diabetic. After all, more consumers consume white flour on a regular basis than are actually diabetic. This point is valid, but it does not disprove the alloxan-diabetes connection. While alloxan is one cause of adult-onset type 2 diabetes, it is of course not the only cause. The current theory suggests a hereditary beta-cell predisposition to injury coupled with some defect in tissue regeneration capacity” may be a key cause. For alloxan to cause injury to an individual’s beta cells, the individual must have the genetic susceptibility to injury. This is similar to the connection between high-cholesterol foods and heart disease. Eating high-cholesterol foods causes heart disease, especially in people who have family histories of heart disease. The link between alloxan and diabetes is as clear and solid as the link between cholesterol and heart disease.

The net of regulations and inspections that is supposed to ensure food safety is fraying to the point of breaking. Food is overseen with contradictory practices and uneven funding. Sometimes the problem is a severe shortage of food inspectors; other times it’s an agency at least as interested in promoting the food industry as in protecting consumers. The national assembly should consider various fixes over the years, and under pressure from the agriculture industry that has repeatedly backed off.

the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and control, is responsible for most food safety oversight. But the gaps in regulation between them, and the confusion over which does what, are vast.

The NAFDAC oversees meat and poultry, but who is in charge of seafood? The Nafdac ought to inspects the meat that will go into processed foods, but who is responsible for it once it’s processed. The NAFDAC is responsible for eggs when they’re in the shell, WHO IS RESPONSIBLE when they’re out of the shell. The NAFDAC regulates produce, who sets up the agreements under which growers police themselves?. The contradictions carry over into funding. The NAFDAC oversees 20% of the food but gets most of the food safety budget, according to the Ministry of Agriculture; who oversees 80% of the food but gets 24% of the funding.

The NAFDAC has been badly understaffed for years, but the shortage is worsening. As food imports tripled since 1998 and the number of domestic food establishments increased by 10%, the Ministry of Agriculture reports that the number of food safety inspectors dropped by 11% and inspections of foreign food firms fell by more than half.

The NAFDAC suffers from a different ailment: mixed mission. It is charged with the contradictory jobs of promoting agriculture and protecting the consumer, and lately the consumer has been losing. The agency has dragged its heels on rules to guard against mad cow disease. It tried to stop one beef producer from testing all of its cattle, and in 2005, it kept secret for seven months a positive test for the disease in a Nigerian cattle. It still has only a voluntary tracking system for cattle.

The missions of the NAFDAC should be combined into either drug or food agency charged solely with consumer safety and given adequate funding to perform the job. Some of that cost should be borne by food importers. Considering the cost of the latest recall, which will probably run well over $100 million and might force some smaller, unwitting retailers to close altogether, increasing the food safety budget would prove a wise investment. Whether the country has both drug and food agency as one regulator cannot ensure public safety without the power to recall dangerous food. This is so basic that most consumers assume the NAFDAC can force such recalls.

The NAFDAC can recall unsafe medical devices but not contaminated food (with the exception of infant formula). Makers of most consumer goods generally must notify the Consumer Product Safety Commission within 24 hours of learning that a product might be dangerous. This isn’t true of food producers, which report to the NAFDAC, according to the 2007 Ministry of Agriculture report. The two-fold food agency also has asked for, and should get, full access to company records in emergency situations. Most companies quickly comply when asked to recall suspect food. But in several cases, food producers have refused or delayed. In one case, the sole distributor of the contaminated semogina balked at recalling the product or telling the NAFDAC where it had been shipped. The NAFDAC was helpless to do anything other than issue a public warning.

Under existing policies, consumers don’t have the right to know where recalled food products were sold. Six years ago, the NAFDAC offered to tell several states which retailers were involved — if they kept the information confidential. A dozen or so states agreed to the offer, Lagos among them, but an outcry from consumer groups led to legislation requiring food manufacturers that sell products in Lagos to notify state health authorities. The NAFDAC also keeps such information confidential. Retailers, who are were innocent customers in these recalls, understandably worry about the exposure. But public safety must come first. Secrecy and delays are inexcusable when it comes to a commodity as ubiquitous, life-sustaining and potentially dangerous as food.

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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