Regulating Food Production and Processing in Nigeria: Where Are We?
By Gbolahan Oluyemi
With enormous agricultural resources and a population of over 200 million people, the food production and processing industry is vital to the economy. The value of Nigeria’s food processing industry is about $20 billion.
In addition to feeding our teeming population, the food production and processing industry offers both skilled and unskilled job opportunities. It also creates revenue opportunities for the three tiers of government.
Judging by the importance of food production and considering the need to protect the population from consuming unhealthy food products, the food production industry requires comprehensive regulation.
Before 1993, the Food and Drugs Administration and Control Department of the Federal Ministry of Health regulated food production and processing in Nigeria.
However, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) was created in 1993 to regulate food and drug products. Since then, NAFDAC has increasingly played a significant role in regulating food production and processing in Nigeria.
The legal framework regulating food production and processing consists of numerous substantive and subsidiary legislations. Some of these federal laws include the Food and Drugs Act; the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control Act; the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs, Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous Provision) Act; the Food, Drug and Related Products (Registration) Act; the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2018; the Marketing (Breast milk substitutes) Act.
In furtherance to the powers vested in NAFDAC by Sections 5 and 30 of the NAFDAC Act, NAFDAC also issued regulations and guidelines.
To deepen consumer protection, especially from the environmental angle, the Minister for Environment issued the National Environmental Health Practice Regulations 2016. Part IV of the regulations covers food sanitation, while Part V deals with abattoir sanitation.
There also exists a National Environmental (Food, Beverages and Tobacco Sector) Regulations 2009, which seek to prevent and minimize pollution from all operations and ancillary activities of food, beverages and tobacco companies.
The 2009 regulation is enforced by the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESRA) and made under Section 34 of the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (Establishment) Act, 2007.
Additionally, some states have laws regulating food production and handling within their respective states. For instance, Lagos State has the Law Reforms (Tort) Law of Lagos State, the Lagos State Safety Commission Law 2011 and the Lagos State Meat Inspection Law. Local governments also have health and sanitation officers saddled with the responsibility of ensuring safety.
Asides from the legislations and subsidiary instruments, the federal government documented policies defining the government’s strategy and objectives concerning food production and consumption. Some of these policies include the National Policy on Food Safety and its Implementation Strategy and the National Policy on Food and Nutrition in Nigeria.
The laws are to protect consumers and sanitize the food production industry. For example, the Food and Drugs Act prohibit the sale, importation, manufacture or storage of any food containing a poisonous or harmful substance. Despite this law, some beans retailers were arrested in Lagos in 2017 for preserving beans with insecticide.
There have also been unrecorded cases of fruit retailers using calcium carbide to quicken the ripening of fruits. These scenarios suggest that regulators are expending most of their energy on the large-scale and corporate food producers, thereby paying less attention to retailers and small scale food producers.
On the international level, our food products are being rejected by some countries. A few days ago, the Director-General of NAFDAC reportedly addressed the incessant rejection of food and agricultural commodities from Nigeria over alleged poor quality at a virtual technical roundtable meeting with other federal government agencies.
The Food and Drug Act prohibits the sale and advertisement of food products as treatment, prevention or cure for certain diseases listed in schedule 1 of the Act.
Some of these include Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Cancer, Cataract, Diabetes, Cholera, Epilepsy, Obesity, Sexual impotence, loss of virility or sterility etc.
Despite the prohibition, social media and e-commerce platforms are used to sell products marketed as prevention and cure for some of these diseases. Many of these products are also sold unbranded in local markets and herb stores across the nation.
Similarly, the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs, Unwholesome Processed Foods (Miscellaneous Provision) Act prohibit the production, importation, manufacturing, selling, distribution or possession of unwholesome processed food.
An individual or company that produces, import, manufacture, sell, distribute or possess unwholesome food violates the law and is liable to a fine or imprisonment.
Despite this provision, rotten tomatoes are sold across Nigerian markets. They are preferred by buyers because they are cheaper than healthy tomatoes. Some canteens may be using these rotten tomatoes in preparing food for their customers.
Despite that Regulation 58 of the National Environmental Health Practice Regulations 2016 mandates that all bread products must be wrapped and labelled before leaving the bakery. Unlabelled and unwrapped bread are still sold across the counter in Nigeria.
Despite that Regulation 44 of the National Environmental Health Practice Regulations 2016 mandates that every food premise is painted white and rendered washable, many food premises do not comply with this regulation.
Definitely, we are not where we ought to be in terms of effective regulation of food production and safety. As a nation, we are still far from the green line. Although, we are also not where we use to be.
Asides from NAFDAC, there are other regulatory agencies such as the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), NESRA, Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), Lagos State Consumer Protection Agency (LASCOPA) and by extension the Lagos State Safety Commission etc.
It may be more effective for these agencies to work together rather than work independently. These agencies should also consider an easy whistleblowing procedure to enhance safety and information gathering.
Section 18 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection (FCCP) Act provides the FCCPC with powers to prevent the circulation of goods (including food) in Nigeria if such food is a public hazard.
Nigerians have also aided the unhealthy practices of some food producers by not reporting unhealthy food production. The law already empowers FCCPC to seal premises that contain or house substandard or hazardous food products.
FCCPC is also empowered to compel manufacturers, importers, wholesalers and retailers to certify standards and give public notice on any health hazard associated with products.
I believe these agencies need information from consumers to be able to discharge their statutory duties effectively.
While the regulatory framework appears comprehensive but weakly enforced, it is yet to offer the desired protection for the consumers compared with other jurisdictions such as the USA, UK and EU.
Despite the numerous legislations, food products below international standards are still served and marketed across the country.
Some critics of the regulatory framework have argued that the regulators are more of revenue generators than safety enforcers. Stakeholders in the industry are hopeful that in future, there will be a review of the legislation and enforcement mechanism.
Hopefully, amendments to the existing laws will introduce new provisions that sufficiently address the enforcement of regulations and other developing safety issues in food production, processing and handling.
Currently, there is a Food Safety and Quality Bill before the National Assembly; there is also a Bill to amend the NAFDAC Act.
Regarding enforcement, there is a Bill to establish Nigeria Safety and Hygiene Surveillance Corps. Hopefully, these pending Bills will birth proactive legislation that strengthens the regulation of the food production industry and ultimately protect consumers.
For questions, mail me via [email protected].