The Consumer Protection Council [CPC] recently alerted Nigerians on the availability of beans which had been preserved with poisonous substances and are being sold to unsuspecting buyers in our markets. CPC advised consumers to extensively parboil their beans before consuming them and to make sufficient enquiries before buying beans.
The caution was contained in a press statement by CPC’s Director-General, Babatunde Irukera. It followed information which went viral on social media about some retailers’ reported use of a particular insecticide, Sniper, to preserve beans. Besides thorough cooking, Irukera also advised consumers to sufficiently wash their food items before cooking. “Thorough washing of food items before consumption or preparation for consumption is a generally accepted method of protecting and promoting safety.”
The DG also said, “CPC has recently confirmed credible information that retailers, mostly in the open markets, are using pesticides to preserve beans. They use 2.2 Dichlorovinyl Dimethyl Phosphate (DDVP) compound otherwise marketed and known as sniper, to preserve beans.” The marketers use sniper to protect beans from weevil attacks. Bean weevils, a sub-family of beetles, typically infest various kinds of beans or seeds, living most of their juvenile lives inside a single seed. Adult weevils drop their lavas inside a bean seed and the lava feeds from the seed until maturity, in the process completely wrecking the bean.
Irukera also said sniper, by its chemical composition, is potentially injurious when human beings are “unduly exposed to it by inhalation, absorption, direct skin contact or ingestion.” Pesticides are meant to kill pests and are potentially harmful to human health. Health effects of pesticides may be acute or delayed. According to health experts, acute effects include abdominal pain, dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting. Long term health risks associated with the consumption of pesticides through stored food or other means include diseases of the kidney, prostate, breast, pancreas, liver, lungs and skin cancer. Indeed, there have been media reports in the past where a group of siblings or a set of family members reportedly died after eating beans.
The CPC boss also observed that while thorough cooking significantly reduces the risk of exposure to pesticides, the best possible caution is to avoid subjecting food items to pesticides because such a practice is not in accordance with prevailing food safety regulations. He said CPC was collaborating with other relevant regulators to address the situation. The fact that the alert on poisonous beans came from CPC indicates failure of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control [NAFDAC] in its statutory functions. Although one of the functions of NAFDAC is to ensure “effective control of quality of food, drugs, cosmetics, medical services, packaged water and chemicals”, the food segment has not enjoyed as much attention as is given to drugs.
There is urgent need for CPC and other relevant agencies to step up enlightenment campaigns to educate beans farmers and dealers on the hazards of pesticides to human health, especially when they are used to store harvested crops. Human life and health must be valued above profit that may accrue from quick sale of beans. No matter how much beans are at risk of weevil attacks, the gains of preserving beans with pesticides are not worth the health of Nigerians that consume such poisonous beans.
We encourage government and agricultural research institutes in the country to avail farmers with safer ways of preserving beans. Many storage techniques exist in the country’s research institutes. In the active days of agricultural extension services, farmers were exposed to traditional methods of preserving beans. They included storage in air-tight containers or by dropping few pepper seeds in the storage container. While we urge government to initiate policies that will link outcomes of scientific studies in research institutes to activities of farmers and traders, we encourage NAFDAC to check activities of beans farmers and marketers that pose dangers to the health of consumers.