Medical Law

FOOD SAFETY AND UNSANITARY CONDITIONS OF NIGERIAN MARKETS: THE LEGAL EXPECTATIONS

Abstract:

According to the World Health Organization Fact Sheet of May 2022, unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers. It also creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly, and the sick. Prof. Ikenkuronye opined that 200,000 people die of food poisoning in Nigeria annually. This position is agreeable as most markets in Nigeria and food sales outlets are short of hygienic and sanitary conditions.

Introduction:

Food safety refers to the routines in the preparation, handling, and storage of food meant to prevent food-borne illness and injury.[1] Jimoh in emphasizing the importance of food safety, lucidly stated that adequate and satisfactory food hygiene and safety is one of the foundations on which the people care should rest[2]. This is true because for food safety to be guaranteed, the need for a clean and conducive environment, particularly in markets where there are sold, cannot be overemphasized.

In Nigeria, the efforts put into ensuring food safety in local markets are not complimentary, as individuals, companies, and sometimes government contributes to the challenges. It is interesting to note that most markets in Nigeria are short of hygienic standards, with little or no proper waste disposal system, leaving harmful and noxious waste where goods are sold, with remarkably decorating heaps and flow of waste on almost every side of the market.

This menace continually contributes greatly to the increase in the death rate of the country and reduces the life expectancy level of those consuming such goods or living within the area.

The deaths arising from food poisoning are amongst others, a product of contamination of exposed food in unhealthy conditions, which give room for harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, etc, and other contaminants to contaminate or infest foods.

This article will carefully outline some laws in relation to the topic and the challenges in ensuring food safety in Nigeria.

EFFECTS OF INSANITARY MARKET CONDITIONS ON CONSUMERS:

  1. Food contamination/ poisoning: The contamination of the market environment attracts very harmful micro-organisms like; bacteria, viruses, parasites, and prions, which can easily contaminate food and leave them in unfit condition for human consumption.
  1. Causes the spread of food-borne diseases: According to WHO, there are more than 600 million cases of food-borne illnesses.[3] These diseases are usually caused by bacteria, viruses, and other harmful organisms.
  1. Disability or death: The 2015 WHO report estimated that 420,000 deaths could occur in a year as a result of the consumption of contaminated foods which usually arise from a contaminated environment and the use of harmful chemicals.[4]
  1. Reduction of life expectancy: The inimical nature of a contaminated environment can contribute to the reduction in the total number of years a person in a population could expect to live. This is because a gain in life expectancy is associated with adopting a health strategy and eating or buying foods from a contaminated environment is not the right way to go.

SOME LAWS MEANT TO PROMOTE SANITARY CONDITIONS:

The approach in ensuring food safety in the country is sectorial; with different sectors like Environment, Trade, Agriculture, and Health, causing a lack of uniformity in implementation and policy formulation.

There are certain laws enacted to help curb the incidence of food-borne diseases and help promote food safety in Nigeria, they operate in different forms. For instance, the Ministry of Environment in ensuring environmental safety through proper refuse and sewage disposal is also ensuring food safety, as food poisoning is a product of a contaminated environment. For the purpose of this article, we will be highlighting a few of our federal laws in this regard, not forgetting that some states have laws in place to help address this problem. Some of these federal laws are;

  1. FOOD AND DRUGS ACT[5]: The Act in S.1[6] and 6[7] prohibits the sale of goods prepared, preserved, packaged, or stored under insanitary conditions.
  1. Criminal Code ACT[8] & PENAL CODE[9]: The Criminal Code Act and the Penal Code are applicable in the southern and northern regions of Nigeria, respectively. The Criminal Code provides in S.247 thus:

“A person who-

  •  Vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the health of the persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighborhood or passing along a public way; or[10]
  •  Does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, whether human or animal; is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for six months.”[11]
  1. HARMFUL WASTE (SPECIAL CRIMINAL PROCEDURE, ETC) ACT[12]: This Act specifically restricts the dumping of harmful waste on land, water, and other matters related thereto. S.2[13] of the Act provides for the punishment of any perpetrator and anyone who aids the perpetrator, procures or counsels another person, and omits to do

In cases of companies committing the offense, s.7[14] provides that the veil of incorporation will be lifted and the Directors, Secretary and key members of the company will be held liable.

Challenges and problems:

The problem of enforcement:  As wonderfully couched these laws are, they appear to be best operational in imaginations than reality, as little or nothing is done by the relevant bodies in ensuring that sanitary conditions are maintained.

Nature of some food safety laws: Some laws like the NAFDAC Act, Food, Drugs, and Related Products (Registration, Etc) Act, and the Food and Drugs Act, etcetera are quite on a broader scale of industrial manufacturing, sale, advertising, leaving local markets in the hands of mostly set ups made by the local and State governments which are mostly not too serious in enforcing sanitation laws and food sale regulations in local markets.

The complexity of the local markets: Small-scale farmers who plant vegetables or keep animals for sale may not be easily discovered, advised on proper farming as well as preservation of their goods during the sale in markets and other public places.

Lack of proper education on food safety: Farmers and traders alike may lack the requisite know-how on the best agricultural practices and methods of preservation, respectively, to avoid food infestation and poisoning, leading to cases of harmful outcomes upon consumption.

Laziness on the part of some traders:  Some farmers and traders who are armed with the knowledge in ensuring food safety may still want to continue with some unsafe traditional method for the purpose of convenience, resulting in food poisoning and consequently bad health for the consumers.

Poor Coordination & ineffectiveness in terms of control: The lack of synergy between the Ministries of Health, Environment, and Agriculture poses a problem of having an effective enforcement system in ensuring food safety in Nigeria.

Recommendations:

The effective synergy between the Ministries of Health, Environment, and Agriculture: There should be continuous and proactive synergies between the Ministries of Environment, Health, Agriculture, and others, in combating insanitary conditions in markets which if not checked, contribute immensely to food poisoning and death in extreme cases.

Proper education/sensitization: People should be sensitized and educated at all levels about food safety, in line with global health standards. This should not be the sole task of the government but also informed individuals, organizations, groups, and clubs.

Encouraging personal and environmental hygiene amongst traders: Traders should be intentional about their personal hygiene and market hygiene, as it goes a long way to help alleviate the problem of food poisoning and promotes food safety.

Effective legislation/amendment: There should be well thought laws and an effective enforcement mechanism in place, at the Local, State and Federal levels on food safety and market sanitation, to aid food safety in the country.

Conclusion:

The fight for food safety can only be achieved when all and sundry get involved in taking deliberate and appropriate steps in ensuring that foods sold are fit for human consumption, market environments are kept clean and traders uphold to high hygienic standards.

ENDNOTES:

  • Sesotec, “The Importance of Food Safety” 29/1/2020.
  • Godwin Jomoh, “Food Safety and Hygiene in Nigeria” published on This Day, 2020.
  • World Health Organization, “Food Safety” 19 May, 2022.  

[1]Sesotec, “The Importance of Food Safety” 29/1/2020. Accessed on https;//www.sesotec.com/apac/en/resources/blog/what-is-food-safety   

[2] Godwin Jomoh, “Food Safety and Hygiene in Nigeria” published on This Day, 2020. Accessed on; https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2020/07/01/food-safety-and-hygiene-in-nigeria/

[3]  World Health Organization, “Food Safety” 19 May, 2022. Accessed on  www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/food-safety

[4] ibid

[5] Cap s.F. 32 LFN 2004

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Cap C.38 LFN 2004

[9] Cap C.77 LFN 2004

[10] Ibid, (1)(a)

[11] Ibid, (1)(b)

[12] Cap H1, LFN 2004.

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

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About Ajang Precious Esq., LL. B, BL

Ajang Precious Esq., LL. B, BL. is an experienced Associate with a demonstrated history of working in the law practice industry. Skilled in Literature, Law, Public Speaking, Creative Writing, and Poetry. Strong professional with a Bachelor of Laws - LLB focused in LAW from the University of Calabar.