For the better part of this week, controversy has trailed the news that the consumption of Fanta and Sprite with Vitamin C could result in a deadly outcome.
This followed a judgement by a court in Lagos ordering the National Agency For Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to direct the Nigeria Bottling Company Plc., manufacturers of Fanta and Sprite soft drinks, to include a warning on the bottles of the product, that its content cannot be taken with the drug. The court also slammed NAFDAC with a N2million fine.
It will be recalled that the entire suit was initiated by a businessman who had dragged the Nigerian bottling company to the legal institution over serious breach to public safety.
The businessman, identified as Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo and his company, Fijabi Adebo Holding limited, also joined the NAFDAC as a necessary party for its abysmal failure to regulate properly and check the infiltration of the Nigerian market of poisonous soft drinks.
The businessman narrated an experience in March, 2007 that Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited bought large quantities of Coca-Cola, Fanta Orange, Sprite, Fanta Lemon, Fanta Pineapple and Soda water, for export and subsequent retail in United Kingdom.
According to him, health authorities in the UK, the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council Trading Standard, Department of Environment and Economy Directorate, flagged fundamental health concerns over the content of the Sprite and Fanta soft drinks.
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This was corroborated by the regulatory agencies in the European Union, which stated that the soft drinks contained excessive levels of sunset yellow and benzonic acid, which are classified as cancer causing chemicals.
It affected the business of Fijabi Ajebo Holdings Limited, as the company could not sell the Fanta and Sprite drinks as they were seized and destroyed by the UK health authorities.
Following the public outcry over the issue, NAFDAC, according to The Sun newspaper, filed an appeal and a motion to stay execution of the judgement.
But NAFDAC’s role in all of this further raises the question of how serious agencies of government established to safeguard the welfare of Nigerians are in attending to this duty.
NAFDAC’s basic responsibility is to regulate and control the manufacture, importation, exportation, advertisement, distribution, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, chemicals and packaged water. The content of fanta and sprite, or any other soft drink intended for the consumption of Nigerians, definitely fall under the purview of the agency. Yet, it would appear that NAFDAC is not taking its watchdog role seriously. Else, how would you explain the fact that although this case has been in court since 2007 (ten years ago), NAFDAC has not deemed it fit to issue a warning to NBC nor warned Nigerians about the dangers of consuming the drinks until the court judgement arrived in 2017.
What about the defense of the NBC who after admitting supplying the products, contended that the product manufactured by the company were meant for local distribution and consumption as the company does not manufacture its products for export, as Coca-Cola brand of soft drinks is manufactured and bottled by various Coca-Cola franchise holders in most countries of the world, including the United Kingdom.
Does this then mean that the lives and health of Nigerians is not as important as those of the citizens of those other countries?
If indeed there is nothing wrong with the levels of the chemicals contained in the drinks in Nigeria as claimed by the NBC, then the onus lie on NAFDAC to at least tell Nigerians why they can take higher percentage of benzoic and ascorbic acids in their drinks more than any other country in the world.
It is apparent that NAFDAC failed in its regulatory role in carrying out the required routine tests on the drinks, thereby exposing unsuspecting Nigerians to health dangers.
With the rising cases of liver, kidney diseases, diabetes and cancer in Nigeria, it is worrisome that NAFDAC has not been woke to its responsibility in ensuring that quality control is adhered to in the production and distribution of Fanta and Sprite drinks.
The government, through the health ministry and the national assembly, must treat this issue with all the level of seriousness it deserves so as to save millions of unsuspecting Nigerian citizens from the dangers of poor regulation of consumable products.
The government must also begin to look into how other consumable products are manufactured. This regulations should be followed up. NAFDAC and other regulatory agencies must also wake up to their duties. After all, it is not that there are no regulations; the point is that such regulations are not being enforced.
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