By Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa/ Umoja Standard.
Kampala, Uganda: While addressing press at Hotel Africa on Monday, Betty Rose Aguti- the policy and Advocacy Specialist at Caritas Uganda said that the current Food and Drug Act of 1964 is so absolute and cannot address the current need to properly provide for a regulatory and legal framework.
“We need to review this law as soon as possible otherwise; we are killing ourselves”. Said Betty.
“According to World Health Organization, food safety refers to the practices that are observed during the handling processing and distribution of food but because the current law cannot well facilitate this, the entire food system is compromised”. She added.
She revealed,- Studies show that unsafe food cause over 200 types of food-borne diseases ranging from diarrhea to cancer therefore ‘it is imperative that all governments put in place adequate food safety laws and policies and indeed implement them to protect consumers from unsafe food’.
Some members of Civil Society Organisations pose for a group photo after a Press Conference on Food Safety yesterday at Hotel Africana under the theme ‘Safer food, better health, and a prosperous nation. Photo by Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa.
She stated that almost over 200,000 Ugandans including under 5 years children die annually due to consumption of contaminated food. She added, according to Uganda cancer institute, the incidence of cancer is at 400/10,000 people and the prevalence is about 800,000 to 1,000,0000 annually which is worrisome.
Betty blamed this on poor communication and coordination mechanisms and conflict of interest between Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) on where the law should be placed resulting into fragmentated controls.
To Mariam Akiror- the Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at Action Against Hunger USA-Uganda Mission poor food safety practices are major as a result of the behavior pattern of stakeholders involved in the production, processing, handling, storage, distribution and sale of food at different levels of the food value chain.
She mentioned that poor knowledge of small holder farmers and inadequate capacity to implement food safety practices, -widespread abuse of agrochemicals, preservatives, chemical additives and inadequate policy and legislative environment on food safety are great contributors to the vice of unsafe food.
“Inadequate attention to the presence of metals/contaminants in locally processed food due to poor standard food grade material, widespread poverty and illiteracy of food handlers and food business owners in rural, semi-urban communities, poor monitoring and control of street food vending exposure a danger of unsafe food”. Said Mariam.
She added that food is also contaminated due to poor post-harvest handling as over 30% of it is contaminated in the process. ‘This should be addressed with public awareness on issues of food safety by enforcing WASH programs, nutrition and livelihood among others.
Earlier on Professor Gabriel Olupot- a lecturer at the Department of Food Production-Makerere University College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES) had stressed that use of toxic fertilizers has destroyed soils by killing soil-nutrients using nuclear as carrier material that include mining waste like slag (mercury, lead and others).
He said that rampant use of toxic organic fertilizers has also gravely affected soils as most of it is from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that are detrimental to soil life.
He also mentioned that pesticides are also dangerous to our soils saying that 99% of it ends up in soil, water and atmosphere. He added that poor disposal of human waste as most industries don’t treat their waste there by opening their systems during heavy rains that expose soils to a danger.
It is against this background that Prof. Olupot sought government to equip laboratories as absence of it will limit detection of toxins.
Speaking at the press conference, Ms. Linda Ochieng from Pan Africa Women Organization on behalf of fellow CSOs sought for devising strategies for achieving the best food safety and quality practices in the manufacture, storage distribution and sale of poultry, animal and fish feeds.
These/CSOs are looking at engaging parliament to immediately review the Food and Drugs Act to provide the legal framework to implement the National Food Policy on Food Safety.
CSOs sought for restoration of hygiene and sanitarily inspection systems to strengthen the existing inspection for both food and animals reaching out to street food vending establishments, traditional food markets and others.
“Independent Food Safety Authority should be established in order to have inclusive overall responsibility for ensuring safety of the food consumed by citizens as well ensuring Food Safety testing and Inspection in production, manufacturing and distribution sectors”. Said Linda.
Linda stressed that as CSOs, they seek for development of adequate awareness and education programmes for food safety that covers the entire supply chain as well inculcating the subject of food safety into the curriculum of the primary and secondary education institutions.
These called for a total ban on toxic agrochemicals and fertilizers and ensure that all the antibiotics and growth promoters are harmless.
In Uganda the main law that governs food safety is the Food and Drug Act (1964). In 1993 the drug element was transformed into the Drug Act under the National Drug Authority (NDA). This left the food element of the Food and Drug Act hanging.
No amendment has been made to this date on what is now referred to as the Food Act. The current Food Act does not address technological developments in the food industry such as food additives and contaminants and packaging.
Civil Society Organisations included Caritas Uganda and The Uganda Farmers Common Voice Platform-Host, Action Against Hunger USA-Uganda Mission, Uganda National Farmers Federation, SEATINI Uganda, Maco Consultants, Pan African Women Organisation and others.