Civil Society Organisations(CSOs) have raised alarm over a pending crisis in the country over the unsafe food consumed in the country.
CSOs including SEATINI Uganda, Centre for Food and Adequate Living Rights(CEFROHT) , Food Rights Alliance, African Institute for Culture and Ecology, Uganda Farmers Common Voice Platform for advocacy said as the world gears to celebrate the World Food Safety Day which is scheduled for June , 7,2023 it is high time focus is turned on food safety in the country.
SEATINI’s Peninah Mbabazi said Uganda is off-track on the Malabo declaration which emphasizes the need for food safety .
“According to the 2022 CAADP Biennial report, Uganda has neither met the set target for the Africa Food Safety Health Index nor has it met the Food Safety Trade Index targets. As such, it is a no wonder that numerous agricultural products are rejected in regional markets. Unfortunately, it is the regular Ugandan consumer who bears the brunt of these challenges as they can only afford the unsafe foods sold widely on the market,”Mbabazi said.
Food Rights Alliance Executive Director, Agnes Kirabo could not agree more.
“Whereas many of our people around the country go hungry without food, the 70% who have food are eating poison every day. Nobody is safe because food consumption is a daily routine,” Kirabo said.
The Food Rights Alliance Executive Director cited the recent banning of Ugandan food including maize from entering the Kenyan market for possessing aflatoxins which he said is a pointer to the unsafe food in the country.
Kirabo insisted that whereas the food was banned from entering the Kenyan market for having high levels of aflatoxins, it was never destroyed.
“Can anyone point to us where this food was destroyed? This is the same food that ends up being sold as posho in schools and our children feed on it. As at home we feed on poisonous food everyday including salads, at school , our children are also feeding on posho and beans with cancer causing aflatoxins. That is the situation we are in as a country. It is affecting everyone. No one is safe,” Agnes Kirabo said.
Denis Tabaro, the Executive Director at the African Institute for Culture and Ecology blasted government for failure to ban the use of Glyphosate and Glyphosate Based Herbicides yet they cause cancer and have been banned in many other countries.
“This threatens and is a violation of the right to life, health, right to adequate food and to a clean and health environment guaranteed under Objectives XX, XXII, articles 20, 45, 8A and 33 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. Our ancestors had traditional ways of dealing with pests and diseases but the herbicides have caused more problems. Apart from causing cancer, they lead to soil infertility. We need to change this,” Tabaro said.
He said that the chemicals used to preserve food like tomatoes to ensure they stay for a long time as well as those that ensure they ripen fast are a danger to humans but said government has not taken keen interest in this state of affairs which threatens the lives of its citizens.
SEATINI’s Peninah Mbabazi noted that chemical substances of health concern still end up in food due to the use of poor equipment.
“ The Food and Drugs Act, CAP 278, prohibits adding harmful substances to food sold for human consumption. However, because of poor equipment and machines used in processing food, such substances end up in food particularly Posho, millet flour and grounded nuts, compromising food safety. More so, the continental Aflatoxin Control Action Plan (ACAP) that ensures food safety through the control of aflatoxins and chemical substances such as arsenic, cadmium, and mercury; pesticides; insecticides; and residues of disinfectants and veterinary drugs in the food chain, has not yet been fully implemented because of the inadequacy of funds.”
The CSOs also blasted government for failure to amend the Food and Drugs Act which is the fundamental law that governs food safety in the country , having been enacted in 1964.
“The law not been amended to account for changes in technology, rising food safety related issues, and challenges related to agricultural practices, and food production among others. For example, the government converted the drug element into the Drug Act under the National Drug Authority (NDA) to regulate drugs. Unfortunately, the food element of the Food and Drug Act is not active, leaving the food element an orphan that the food industry actors exploit with several unsafe and processed foods,” said Betty Aguti from Uganda Farmers Common Voice Platform for advocacy.
The CSOs urged government to streamline the food and safety enforcement mandate in the counry.
“ A cabinet resolution to establish the Food, Animal and Plant Health Authority should be fast tracked. To avoid duplications of mandates as often seen, a clear mandate and overall responsibility for ensuring food safety should be vested in the authority in collaboration with agencies for support,” SEATINI’s Peninah Mbabazi urged.
She also urged government to review the Food Act of 1964 to consider the changes in technology and rising food challenges.
“There is need to restore hygiene and sanitary inspection systems to ensure adherence to the existing regulatory measures for food and food products, including street food vending establishments, traditional food markets, primary food production centres and food processors, and household hygiene and sanitation.”
The CSOs also called for strengthening of enforcement of standards by increasing funding for quality assurance agencies through adequate staffing to undertake market surveillance, testing, and certification activities.