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14.06.2003 Feature Article

Safe Food For Good Health and Environment

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It was most gratifying to see Ghana takes bold step to raise awareness and pragmatic effort to address food safety issues. Culminating in the high enthusiasm with which the first national food safety week in the country was celebrated last Monday 9th June 2003 in Accra according to ghanaweb’s report.

It is indeed true that “there is a direct relationship between the food we ate, our health and the economy," as the Vice President Aliu Mahama noted and the government's responsibility to ensure food security by making it available, affordable, sufficient and safe.

Being a Ghanaian who has been involved in community food security issues and sustainable organic agriculture promotional activities among resource poor farmers, the initiative launched is so dear to me. Thus, my intent is to contribute to the discussion of the article posted and to highlight the need for all to embrace the national food safety celebration.

It was most refreshing and at same times alarming the environmental and health impact the Vice President had revealed emanating from contaminated food products. In the said account he noted “about 70 per cent of the economic cost of health problems in Ghana had been attributed to environmentally related diseases because of the circumstances under which "we store, market, prepare and consume our food".

He said the Ministry of Health recently reported that there had been 17,499 cases of diarrhoea, 1,781 cases of typhoid fever and 3,000 cases of cholera in Accra alone in 1999. The World Health Organization (WHO) also said unsafe food, a source of food borne diseases, had an annual fatality rate of 2.2 million people; 1.8 million of which were children, Vice President Mahama said. This situation is disheartening.

Still writing under the heading ‘Deaths through food poison alarming’, the 23rd March 2001, issue of the Ghanaian Daily Graphic also reported that, “Postmortem analyses have shown that many deaths result from the intake of poisoned food caused through the misapplication of certain chemicals on farm produce and taken in by innocent consumers. It has also been established that the occurrence of some strange diseases (typically noted above) emanate from the intake of poisoned food and the wrong application of poisonous chemicals by both small and large scale manufacturing companies…

The Director General of the Ghana Health Services, Dr. E.N Mensah, said “for instance that postmortems on three out of six children who had eaten a fruit in the Assin District on March 10,1999, established that the fruit was contaminated with carbamates, a group of pesticides used as insecticides known to be very toxic. He said many farmers are using very toxic pesticides without paying attention to health and safety safeguards while preparing all sorts of ‘cocktails’ to increase the potency of these chemicals. According to Dr Mensah, others go to the extent of tasting the pesticides to (determine) their potency, which often result in fatalities. (He) also said hazardous chemicals, which are normally required to be used under carefully controlled condition, are used under extremely poor condition without the requisite preventive measures and personal protection. “He further said where such exposure does not result in acute intoxication, chronic and sub acute exposure may, in the long-term, result in allergic dermatitis and damage to internal organs of the body, something which may even result in cancer”. …

In a speech read on his behalf, the WHO representative in Ghana, Dr Melville O. George, said studies conducted by a special task force of the organization indicate that about 36 per cent of farmers claim they had experienced symptoms associated with pesticide poisoning at one time or the other.

The United Nations has (also) warned that about 30 per cent of pesticides marketed in the developing world contain toxic substances which pose a threat to human health and the environment… The problem is particularly serious in sub-Saharan Africa, where regulation was generally weak, said two UN agencies in a joint statement” (UN Sounds Alarm, Ghanaian Daily Graphic Feb. 23 2001).

It is an undeniable fact that today’s agriculture is very much tied to synthetic agro-chemicals. Only God knows the exact amounts of chemical residue contained in the tones of tomatoes, cabbages, etc that are consumed in Ghana everyday.

It is also an established fact that some of the synthetic chemicals that find their way into the human body are able to mimic some natural hormones, causing a wide variety of adverse effects. Some of them include reduction in male sperm count, reduction in male sperm quality, lung or breast cancer (marathon, DDT, endosulfan, etc suspected), abortion and miscarriages and reduced resistance to diseases. Could it not be that this is a contributing factor to the many strange diseases such as cancers, stroke, etc that have become common in our country today?

Every minute of the day, on the average, someone is poisoned by pesticides in the third world. Average person consumes 1.5kg pesticides through eating, drinking, breathing or skin contact. This World Health Organization statistic amounts to 500,000 poisoned of people annually. A pesticide-caused death occurs about every hour and 45 minutes. There are about 3 million Human Pesticides Poisonings worldwide. Yet these estimates tell us nothing about the number of cancers, miscarriages, deformed babies and still-births resulting from the use of pesticides. The rate of pesticide poisoning in underdeveloped countries is more than 13 times that in the United States, despite vastly greater use here, according to Virgil Freed, a consultant to the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID). But why are there so many more victims in the third world?

At 1st application of pesticide in agriculture, 90% of target insects are killed, 10% survive; of these survivors, 50% are killed and 50% survive with the 2nd application.

It is estimated that 67, 000 different pest species cause damage to agricultural crops; 50000 different species of fungi, virus and bacteria and 8000 different weed species. Food safety measures in addition to maintaining hygienic environment at the market places and education of food vendors must also be geared toward ensuring reduction in the use of chemical applications on food crops during farming. This will also maintain produce integrity and less field and food contamination before reaching the market.

This will also call for concerted effort on the path of the government, NGOs and individuals to adopt widespread sustainable farming practices which is less dependent on agrochemicals; using indigenous knowledge and botanical insecticides such as neem, pawpaw leaves, garlic sprays among other proven methods. It is equally true we cannot isolate one aspect of life from another. When we change the way we grow our food, we change our food, we change society, we change our values. In his book The One Straw Revolution: an introduction to natural farming, Mr.Masanobu Fukuoka stated that “The ultimate goal of farming,” he says, “is not the growing of crops, but also the cultivation and perfection of human beings.”

The concept of food safety is crucial and energy must be directed to making it a reality. Raymond K. Bokor—Ecological Agriculture Activist Contact: 1329 John Fowler Road Plainfield, VT 05667, USA Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Raymond K. Bokor
Raymond K. Bokor, © 2003

The author has 3 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: RaymondKBokor

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