Despite ban, imported tomato paste floods markets | Dailytrust

Despite ban, imported tomato paste floods markets

Mojisola Adeyeye
Mojisola Adeyeye

There is disquiet among manufacturers especially those in the tomato value chain over the continued importation of the tomato paste despite being placed on import prohibition list since 2019, Daily Trust  reports. 

Stakeholders in the manufacturing sector said the development is killing the industry  and stymying the capacity of indigenous manufacturers to expand their activities and provide more jobs for the people. 

Several documents reviewed by our correspondent showed that the total ban on the importation of tomato paste was expected to take effect in 2019 following reports of a survey conducted to ascertain the quality of tomato paste being imported into the country with the hope of ramping up local production. 

In March 2015, a former Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Dr Paul Orhii, at a consultative meeting with importers of tomato paste in retail packs (sachet/tin) from China announced plans to conduct a study of the quality of tomato paste being imported into the country. 

He said the plan followed food safety concerns from intelligence gathering, global food safety conferences, workshops, summit, food fraud network and codex committee meeting on processed fruits and vegetables under which tomato concentrate falls. 

Orhii’s concern was based on the outcome of the pilot study/survey of imported tomato paste in retail packs distributed and sold in Lagos conducted by the Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Directorate in Yaba, Lagos in February of the year. The survey essentially examined the Codex Standards and the Nigerian Industrial Standards which specified that Double Concentrate Tomato Paste should contain not less than 28 per cent of natural total tomato soluble solids. 

He said findings show that, “The standards do not permit the addition of any food starch or colour to the tomato concentrate.” 

Lagos State was chosen as the commercial centre of Nigeria with more than two major seaports in Apapa, Tincan, as well as land borders, air cargo terminals in addition to serving not only Nigeria but the West and Central Africa sub-region. 

According to the update of the survey sighted by Daily Trust, 27 main markets and four major supermarkets from the three senatorial zones in Lagos were visited and samples purchased and submitted to the laboratory for analysis. 

In the report dated February 10, 2015, which was submitted to NAFDAC, the directorate said, “The focus of the study and laboratory analysis was the tomato content. The Codex Standards and the Nigerian Industrial Standards (NIS) has specified that tomato content should be 28 per cent minimum. The majority of the brands of tomato paste sampled were registered brands.” 

The findings of the report, however, indicated that 91.1 per cent of the imported tomato paste was “unsatisfactory.” 

“The food safety implications and attendant health effects of these findings are very alarming. Its results indicate that companies of registered tomato paste products from China are conniving with the Chinese manufacturers to dump substandard products to the unsuspecting Nigerian consumers…,” it indicated. 

The report recommended among others that the imported tomato paste brands in retail parks should be suspended until further notice, adding however that this does not affect the tomato concentrate in drums from China imported for local manufacture of various brands of tomato paste in retail packs. 

“There would be a need to inform relevant federal ministries, Nigerian Customs Service, policymakers, etc of this measure in order to guide federal government policy on looking inwards to encourage local industries and reduce the import bills,” the report signed by Mrs O. N. Mainasara said. 

However, despite the 2015 study and the revelation by the then NAFDAC DG, indigenous manufacturers hinted that there has not been any effort to ban the importation in spite of the harmful effect it has on humans. 

But there was a ray of hope in June 2019 when the Ministry of Finance issued a circular, adding tomato paste on the revised import prohibition list. 

Out of the 12 items listed in the circular issued by the then Permanent Secretary, Dr Mahmoud Isa-Dutse, it was stated in item 8 that, “Tomatoes, whole or in pieces H.S Code 2002.10.10.00 and Tomato Concentrate, put up for retail sale, H.S, Code 2002.90.20.00 and 2002.90.90.00.” 

Similarly, in August 31, 2021, the Minister of Finance, Dr Zainab Ahmed, issued another circular directed to the same MDAs, intimating them on the approval for the implementation of the 2021 fiscal policy measures and tariff amendments. In the circular, the same imported tomato paste remains on the import prohibition list. 

Stakeholders say the non-implementation of the ban on imported tomato paste has  crippled tomato growers and indigenous manufacturers of tomato paste in addition to endangering the lives of the populace because of the triple concentrates contained in the imported products as revealed by several studies. 

It was based on this that a foremost tomato paste manufacturer, Chief Eric Umeofia of Erisco Foods Limited, wrote a letter to the current Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, in December 2021 to alert the agency on the unresolved issues. 

In a reply, the DG said, “I wish to assure you that NAFDAC, as a responsible agency of government, has serious regard for the issues raised and has commenced preliminary investigation into the matter in response to your letter. Please, bear with us as we do this and be rest assured that appropriate regulatory actions will be taken as necessary in the interest of the Nigerian population that we are mandated to serve.” 

While receiving a team from Army War College Course 6/2022 that was on Environmental Study Tour to Erisco Foods recently, the Erisco however noted that imported banned tomato paste in retail packs has flooded the market for over three years despite report by the NAFDAC that 91.1% of the imported tomato paste are substandard.     

Managing director of the company, Mr Nnamdi Umeofia, said, “We have stocks of goods worth over N4 billion for about nine months which we have  found very difficult to sell due to the high production cost and the flooding of our markets with imported substandard tomato paste by the import cabals with support of our FOREX.”    

Another local tomato paste manufacturer who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity said, “It is very unfortunate that President Muhammadu Buhari means well for this country but the officials in MDAs are frustrating him by failing to implement his instructions.    

“Since 2015 when the report by NAFDAC, which indicated that 91.1 per cent of the imported tomato paste is substandard, nothing has been done to stop these importers from endangering the lives of our people. Besides, the local manufacturers cannot survive because of the evil of importation. How can a country survive without industrialisation and manufacturing in large quantities? How do we employ our people? By allowing importation, we are importing poverty into the country and enriching the foreigners.    

“We have the capacity to produce what we consume and I can tell you most of the manufacturers are crippled by import and it is out of patriotism that some of us have remained in business because we realise that it pays more to import than to produce locally because you find it difficult even bringing in your materials. You get to the port and you are confronted with a lot of bottlenecks that could stifle whatever good plans you have.”    

A spokesperson with NAFDAC, Mr Sayo Akintola, said the agency under Akinyeye has been up and doing in banning substandard goods and safeguarding the health of the people. He said most of the banned food items that  still find their way into the country came through smuggling, adding that they would have been confiscated if they had come through the right channel.

“If they passed through the normal channel at either the airport or seaport, we have our officials there. They know that they cannot come in legally and so they resort to smuggling. So most of those items must have come in through smuggling. They know that if they had come in through the normal channels, they would have been apprehended,” he said.


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