STEMMING THE GREAT TOMATO PASTE SCAM

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tomato paste on the plate with tomatoes
tomato paste on the plate with tomatoes

Nigerian consumers are notoriously always short-changed by dealers of consumer products in connivance with profit-minded foreigners and greedy, heartless officials of regulatory agencies. Over the years, Nigerians have been routinely served substandard materials from clothing to auto parts to building materials, fuel, wines and spirits and even food and beverage. No one however suspected that a food staple such as tomato paste would be the target of this mindless group.

On Tuesday March 3, 2015 the leadership of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) invited importers of tomato paste in retail packs (sachet/tin) from China to a consultative meeting at the NAFDAC auditorium in Oshodi, Lagos. The subject matter was to discuss the shocking discovery by NAFDAC that 91.1% of tomato pastes in Nigeria were substandard and even dangerous.

Officials of the Agency, led by its Director General, Dr. Paul Orhii reported to its audience that most of the China-made brands contained far less than the required quantity of tomato concentrate. They were rather filled with bulking agents such as starch and then infused with banned colouring which could cause cancer and lead to organ failure. This may in fact be responsible for the increase in Kidney and Liver-related ailments among young and middle-aged Nigerians across the country.

They equally warned the importers to desist from engaging in what is globally referred to as food fraud. Some of the importers however feigned ignorance of the dangers posed by the colouring used in their products as they claimed that the unnaturally coloured pastes are what Nigerian consumers prefer because it makes their cooking red and attractive. Nonetheless, NAFDAC informed the tomato paste importers that it would soon commence a recall process to confiscate the offending products while promising to strengthen its monitoring and enforcement mechanism.

For reasons best known to NAFDAC leadership, however, the Nigerian public whom they are supposed to serve and protect were never formally informed of this discovery and when some media houses reported the story, a few of the same officials who had the meeting with the importers denied the story outright. Curiouser, curiouser’. The same officials who told tomato paste importers that using banned colouring in tomato paste made it carcinogenic and that loading starch into cans to pass off as tomato  paste could be dangerous to diabetic patients suddenly went on the defensive (of the offending tomato pastes) when confronted by the media; claiming there were no such products in Nigeria!

In addition, the recall process that was supposed to have been carried out was suddenly truncated for no clear reasons. The natural suspicion is that some elements within NAFDAC had been compromised against the collective well-being of Nigerians. These Nigerians include the most lowly-placed to those at the highest rung of the socio-economic ladder, including our political leaders, since everybody eats, every day.

Clearly,  the motivating factor for selling starch, coated in dangerous colouring, in the name of tomato paste to hapless Nigerian consumers is greed as tomato concentrate meant for one container load of tomato pastes could be used to make as much as five to ten containers and then sold at very low prices to lure unsuspecting consumers! While the importers are smiling to the banks, Nigerians are rushing to hospitals and early graves.

Against this background, BRANDPOWER calls on the federal government to create a special task-force comprising the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) the Nutritionists Society of Nigeria, the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police, a notable consumer association and the media to investigate this ugly development and ensure that global best practice is strictly adhered to, not only in the quality of tomato paste consumed in the country but all other food products.

The global standard for tomato paste is that it must be made from 100% fresh tomatoes with no additives. No colour, no starch. Nigerian consumers deserve no less.

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