Indigenous tomato production firms and the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control on Thursday traded blame over alleged rising importation of fake and substandard tomato paste into the country.
Among the firms were Erisco Food and Dangote Tomato Pastry. They pointedly accused NAFDAC of encouraging foreign firms to flood the Nigerian market with fake and substandard tomato paste.
China and India were two countries whose names featured prominently as the origin of such “fake, substandard and cancer-causing tomato paste” at a public hearing conducted by the Joint House of Representatives Committees on Healthcare Services, Drugs and Narcotics in Abuja.
However, many importers, including Nigerians and foreigners, thronged the venue of the hearing to deny the “claims” of Dangote and Erisco that they were conniving with NAFDAC to endanger the lives of Nigerians.
The session was jointly chaired by Mr. Chike Okafor and Mrs. Ukeria Azodo.
Leading the accusation against NAFDAC, the Chairman of Erisco Foods, Mr. Eric Umeafia, told the committee that unknown to Nigerians, NAFDAC of today was a compromised agency, which no longer enforced regulations.
He alleged that with the knowledge of NAFDAC, importers ordered fake tomato paste from India and China.
Umeafia stated that whenever a complaint over such “illegality” was lodged at NAFDAC, the agency replied by issuing threat letters to shut down the operations of local tomato production firms.
Umeafia, who called NAFDAC, a “cash and carry” regulator, added, “The biggest market in Nigeria today is NAFDAC. They encourage the importation of cancer-causing tomato paste from China and India.
“During the recent trip by President Muhammadu Buhari to China, this question was put to the Chinese on why they sent substandard goods to Nigeria and they blamed it on greedy government agencies.
“The Chinese will bluntly tell you that it is what you order that you get.”
Erisco’s Legal Adviser, Mr. Abdulrahman Kadiri, also quoted a 2015 report of NAFDAC after the agency conducted safety tests on 300 samples of tomato paste.
“NAFDAC, by its own report, admitted that 91.1 per cent of the samples failed the tests, meaning that they were not good for consumption.
“However, the question is why nothing has been done one year after to bring anybody to book? If we do not stop this trend, we don’t know how many Nigerians will die,” he added.
The Managing Director of Dangote Tomato Pastry, Mr. Abdulkarim Kaita, corroborated the claims of Erisco, alleging that some Chinese firms stored “expired” bulk tomato paste in their factories only to mix it with fresh ones for exportation to Nigeria.
He noted that in China, the Chinese did not eat the grade of tomato paste they exported to Nigeria.
“There are three categories of paste for the European market, the Asian market and the African market.
“The paste for the African market, which is the lowest in terms of quality, is further downgraded for the Nigerian market,” Kaila stated.
At the session, the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, which was represented by Mr. Folorunsho Adeyemi, called for an outright “ban on the import of retail tomato packs.”
But, Prof. Samson Adebayo, who spoke for NAFDAC at the hearing, vehemently denied that the agency committed any of the infractions alleged by Dangote and Erisco.
Several local and foreign importers, including a group of 24 led by Mr. Ikenna Amaechi, dismissed the allegations as “misleading and lacking in substance.”
Adebayo explained that the test results in question were for samples taken from tomato paste in the Lagos area and not the entire country.
He said this was for the primary purpose of determining the quality of the paste, particularly the concentrates, and not over fears that the paste contained injurious substances.
“It was an internal document of NAFDAC; we did not find any injurious substances in the samples we tested,” he added.
The NAFDAC official advised the committee to caution the Erisco boss for making “unsubstantiated allegations capable of chasing foreign investors out of Nigeria.”
Speaking for the importers, Ameachi said the plan of Erisco and Dangote was to destroy the reputation of importers so that they could build a monopoly.
“We are aware of the intention. It is to de-market others, especially the importers, so that Erisco can become the monopoly in the area,” he said.