Reps, agency heads, NBC disagree on additives in soft drinks

The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), said on Monday that it does not have the capacity to carry out tests on all foods and drinks produced or imported into the country in order to certify them healthy for human consumption before their release into the market.

The agency also said that some additives and preservatives such as benzoic acid, sunset yellow and others, used in drinks produced or imported into the country were safe for human consumption.

The agency made the confirmations on the first day of a public hearing by an ad hoc committee of the Federal House of Representatives looking into allegations of harmful additives found in soft drinks sold in the country.

The committee’s work was prompted by the introduction of a motion by a member, Hon Rotimi Agunsoye, to bring the attention of other members to the health risks posed to Nigerians when vitamin C is consumed with soft drinks.

In his remarks at the hearing, Agunsoye said that it was incumbent on the National Assembly to ensure that consumables in Nigeria were healthy.

“As a responsible lawmaking institution, we are determined to ensure a Nigerian environment that produces consumables and products that are healthy for consumption and satisfies international health standards and best practices. This development calls for serious legislative investigation to help us nip such development in the bud before it becomes a serious danger to our national well-being,” he said.

However, Mrs. Simidele Onabanjo, a Deputy-Director who represented the Acting Director-General of NAFDAC, Mr. Ademola Mogbojuri, in her presentation at the hearing said that preservatives were healthy.

“Any certificate of analysis as being issued in the NAFDAC laboratory will address the physical parameter, the appearance, the colour, the taste. It will address the chemical composition, the microbial composition, including the yeast, ecology, and the bacteria. It will also address contaminants like pesticides and heavy metals.

“You will agree with me that we do not have the facility to carry out all these things at once. As a result, we identify key parameters in any product or else, it will take forever to release a product in the market. It will hinder the ease of doing business. There are so many things that we could consider in a product, but since this product has been registered and we are just checking for conformity, we might not need to go through the whole hub when we are doing routine analysis. Some of these analyses are done holistically, comprehensively at the registration.

“Nigeria is one of the stringent regulatory agencies as it concerns food. In the UK and America, they do not register food products. They self-regulate and then periodically, the regulatory authorities visit and sample. However, in Nigeria, we try as much as possible to ensure that all products registered in Nigeria, imported or made-in-Nigeria, even those that are substandard are analyzed. Yes, it is true that we have a lot of challenges and constraints in the agency, even though we didn’t put it in the document. We didn’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot,” she said.

Elaborating further, Onabanjo said that it was not within the powers of NAFDAC to set the standards.

“They are actually preservatives. Asorbebic acid is a fortificant, it can act as an anti-oxidant and it can be preservative. Those things are added like a stabilizer so that the drinks will not break down in trade. That’s the essence of their being there. The contention now is that in some countries, the standards are lower while in Nigeria, ours is a bit higher. While the disparity.

“It has to do with whatever that is adopted in the country. But because there still a bit of contention, they are reviewing it. We cannot unilaterally as an agency take any other country if it has not been adopted as a Nation. Standards are developed by the SON but there are other organizations that participate in setting these standards”, she said.

But the lawmakers took issues with her position, questioning the relevance of sunset yellow, a colourant they said has been proven to cause Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and as a result, has been banned in several countries including Finland, Sweden, United Kingdom and Australia.

The lawmakers also expressed concern that benzoic acid in Nigerian-made soft drinks was much higher than what is found in other countries.

While it is 250milligram per kilogram in Nigeria, it is 150mg per kg in the UK.

Hon Uko Nkole, a member of the committee advised NAFDAC to be proactive in safeguarding the country of unwholesome products.

“You can now agree with me that your conclusion is quite inclusive. If you don’t have all the facilities to certify a product, you do tumbum tumbum and tell us it is very safe. My own take is that NAFDAC, if you are doing your job, you must be seen to be doing your job”, he said.

Weighing in on the issue, the Consumer Protection Agency (CPC) said that while certifying fit the additives that go into soft drinks, sunset yellow can be done away with while Benzoic acid level could be reduced.

“Sunset yet is not that relevant. Benzioc acid should be reduced because they are able to separate everything. Hyperactivity in children is a problem. They have figured out the problem. We have not,” the CPC Director-General, Babatunde Irukare said at the hearing.

But the Operations Director, North for the Nigerian Bottling Company, Aliyo Paiko disagreed with the CPC.

In his presentation, he said that the reduction of benzoic acid was possible but could be harmful to the health of consumers.

“It will be detrimental to the health of the consumer,” he said.

The hearing continues on Tuesday, 24th October.

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