The recent verdict by Justice Adebanjo Oyebanji of the Lagos High Court which awarded a 2 million naira fine against the National Agency For Food and Drug Administration and Control and also ordered the body to order the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC) Plc to put a written warning on Fanta and Sprite bottles, is one judgment that continues to generate furore across the country.
It will be recalled that Dr. Emmanuel Fijabi Adebo, a Lagos-based business man brought a suit against NBC Plc and NAFDAC, through his company, Fijabi Adebo Holdings Limited.
The whole story began when Fijabi Adebo Holdings Company bought large quantities of some NBC carbonated drinks for export to and subsequent retail in the United Kingdom. When the consignment arrived in the United Kingdom, the Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council’s Trading Standard, Department of Environment and Economy Directorate, raised fundamental health issues on the contents and composition of Fanta and Sprite, which were in the consignment.
Findings by the United Kingdom health authorities were also supported by other agencies in European Union countries, which found the products to contain extreme levels of sunset yellow and benzoic acid, which are known to be carcinogenic. (Carcinogenic in lay man’s term means something that causes cancer)
On account of the irregularities and carcinogenic substances present in the drinks, Mr. Adebo and his company could not sell the Fanta and Sprite. Expectedly, this caused huge losses for the company, as the products were seized and destroyed by the United Kingdom health authorities.
The claimants also alleged that NAFDAC did not carry out requisite tests to determine the safety of the drinks for human consumption. They averred that being registered as exporters with the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, they could legally export NBC products to any part of the world and that the bottling company was aware that the products purchased were meant for export.
In her judgment, (and I believe her words should be immortalized)Justice Oyebanji said: “It is imperative to state that the knowledge of the Nigeria Bottling Company that the products were to be exported is IMMATERIAL to its being fit for human consumption. The court is in absolute agreement with the learned counsel for the claimants that soft drinks manufactured by Nigeria bottling company ought to be fit for human consumption irrespective of color or creed.
Suffice to say that three years before this landmark verdict, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) took on the NBC Plc for breach of public hygiene in the then preparations of their products. CPC went as far as gaining the permission of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the federation to use the strength of the law to compel the company to do the right thing by complying with the regulations and standards as it affects its products. Painfully though, the matter died a natural death.
Now, there are many questions begging for answers: How can a product declared unfit for human consumption in a developed world be deemed to be okay for consumption in Nigeria? Is this a mistake of omission or that of commission? If it is dangerous for a white man, it should equally be dangerous for our compatriots! Can NBC say in all good conscience that they are not aware that Fanta and Sprite should not be mixed with Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)? Are there other things being covered up by NBC? Is NAFDAC actually conniving with NBC?
Generally, the consumption of the average soda drink is fraught with too many dangers: from the perspective of health, sugary soda is “empty” calories. No doubt about that. It contains absolutely no essential nutrients. No vitamins. No minerals. No antioxidants and zero fiber. It literally adds nothing to the diet except excessive amounts of added sugar and unnecessary calories. Also, sugar-sweetened beverages may be the leading dietary cause of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a very common disease, affecting about 300 million people worldwide. In fact, as little as one can of soda per day has been consistently linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Sweetened drinks have also been consistently linked to heart diseases.
Sugar intake was first linked to heart disease risk back in the 60’s and 70’s. Since then, it has been established that sugar-sweetened drinks increase some of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The risk of cancer tends to go hand-in-hand with other chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.For this reason, it is not surprising to see that sugary drinks are frequently associated with an increased risk of cancer.
The public should be sufficiently conscious of the composition and risk factors involved in whatever they eat or drink. It should be stressed that the fact that something is attractive or sweet does not make it nutritious. A particular food or drink might be good for taste but that does not mean it is good for the body. There are foods God told the children of Israel not to eat in the Bible not because they would miss heaven by eating them. Water is still the best and cheapest drink without side effect. This is a home truth: what you eat, determines what eats you.
On a final note, this is a clarion call on NAFDAC to live up to its statutory responsibilities and stop passing the buck. The human life is too precious to be wasted in needless circumstances.
Omisore is of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja, Lagos