Meat laced with lethal chemicals exposes a broken food system

For the past few days, netizens and consumers of meat all over the country remain a worried lot thanks to an expose by NTV, on the quality of meat sold in supermarkets.

The investigative piece revealed how meat sold in local markets is laced with dangerous chemicals to make it look fresh for longer. It is now clear that Kenyans, especially meat lovers, are being subjected to dangerous chemicals-raising questions regarding quality and safety controls within the country’s food chain.

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The shocking revelation comes at a time when the country is reeling under lifestyle diseases’ burden- it is not an isolated case, to say the least. In May this year, an investigative report by another local daily found out that vegetable samples from city food markets and two major supermarkets had high levels of mercury and lead. According to lab analyses commissioned by the paper and done at KEPHIS,  kales bought from the two local supermarkets contained 0.13mg per kilo and 0.15mg per kilo of mercury respectively.

This was higher than the recommended World Health Organisation limits of 0.1mg per kilo. But the samples from the markets had 0.007mg per kilo and a maximum of 0.1mg per kilo, which were within WHO acceptable limits.

In the NTV expose, a supermarket attendant speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of his job, narrated how the store he works for buys sodium metabisulphite-referred to in supermarket circles as ‘SMS’ or ‘Dawa ya Nyama’-from industrial area in the city. The chemical, he added, comes in the form of a white powder and is generally used as a disinfectant, antioxidant and preservative.

Is it greed, total disrespect for human life that is making food retailer’s compromise on food safety? Food safety experts note that foodborne diseases are completely preventable, adding that all players along the food value chain have a role to play.

Food safety affects everyone, and it’s on every government or social enterprises lips every day, but it is an often-overlooked piece of the developmental puzzle. In many African countries, Kenya included, it has always been overshadowed with other ‘pressing issues’ like access to water, health, etc.

But why, as a country do we give little attention to food safety? African countries and Kenya in particular-reveals food experts lack the capacity to conduct a risk assessment on food safety. They also think the nations have so many outdated legislations on food regulations and are not properly enforced.

“This is a shocking revelation. It is the tip of the iceberg illustrating the brewing malpractices in the food industry. It is sad to see Kenya’s leaders politicizing food issues instead of providing urgently needed solutions” said Clare Nasike, Greenpeace food campaigner.

A 2018 World Bank report, The Safe Food Imperative: Accelerating Progress in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, found that food safety usually receives minimal policy attention and investment in developing countries and only tends to capture national attention during foodborne disease outbreaks and other crises.

The report added: “As a result, many countries have weak food safety systems in terms of infrastructure, trained human resources, food safety culture and enforceable regulations.”

Dr. Andrew Adewa, a food safety expert notes that Kenya lacks food control systems such as surveillance, inspection. He adds that there is a need to put food standards in place to tame such scenarios. 

“As a country, we are no longer sure of what we eat! Who clears, certifies or puts the label to ascertain the food we consume is safe?” he wondered.

The experts are calling upon authorities to ensure consumers have access to safe and healthy food by empowering the local food industry to produce food in safe and sustainable conditions.

“Government agencies such as the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), need to be proactive and ensure that Kenyans have access to safe food and that vendors selling adulterated meat are brought to book,” added Nasike.

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