Recently, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) raised the alarm that contaminated animal hydes commonly called ponmo had been imported into the country. It added that the product which was meant for industrial use had also gotten to food markets. The agency also expressed worries that unsuspecting public who embrace ponmo as a special delicacy and meat substitute could be consuming it and risk liver, kidney, heart, cancer and other dangerous diseases. While some traders have debunked the report, others said there is poisonous ponmo in the markets. However, business and consumption are still going on. Daily Trust brings the report on the market situations in some states.
Findings have shown that the public’s chances of consuming the product are high because it is cheaper than the local ones as well as their inability to differentiate between the edible and the harmful ones. As a result, they do not bother to verify the source, quality and edibility of the product before they go for it. The sales of the toxic product if it exists could be stealthy and motivated by profit motive by the sellers.
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In Kaduna, people are buying ponmo as usual without any sign of knowledge of contaminated ones in Nigerian markets.
When our correspondent visited Central Market, many people were seen buying the product. Some sellers claimed that they did not know anything about contaminated ponmo.
A trader, Chinyere Obinna, said: “You are the first person to tell me this because I have not heard about any contaminated ponmo. Even this morning, I bought fresh ones and there was no such news when I went to buy it. I believe these people just want to spoil our market because they have seen that more people now buy ponmo instead of beef or fish because of the bad economy.”
Another trader who introduced herself as Mama Ijeoma said: “My customers have been coming to buy. There is no change in ponmo. We have been selling it. I believe some people just want to spoil our business and divert the commodity for other uses like shoes and bags.”
In Borno, ponmo business and patronage are going on smoothly despite reports of availability of toxic ones in Nigerian markets.
Our correspondent gathered that chances of availability of toxic ones in the markets are slim as the business is carried out under a strict monitoring by security operatives, especially because of the insecurity challenge in the state.
Adamu Saleh, a butcher who sells ponmo and cow parts at Bakin Kasuwa Metro Plaza, told Daily Trust Saturday in a chat: “In Maiduguri, we have an association. We also have procedures and guidelines that anyone who wants to join the ponmo business must adhere to before becoming a member and be allowed to sell the product. We have a chairman and other leaders of the association who you must face to screen you for the segment of the trade you are going to do and in which market to sell your ponmo or cow parts. We also have veterinary doctors to register and certify you before you can get involved in selling ponmo and cow parts. The system we operate here has provided channels to detect any intruder who may have brought any undesirable hydes into the market.”
In Lagos, sellers gave a warning that contaminated ponmo and non-toxic ones could not be easily identified in the market.
A seller, Mrs Ruqayah Aderibigbe, told our correspondent that the news of contaminated ponmo at first threw her off her feet.
But she later regained confidence because such reports of contaminated commodities, especially ponmo, and beans in the past did not stop patronage and consumption of the products, nor was there any negative health report.
Residents of Yenagoa, Bayelsa State capital, have said that they could not confirm if toxic ponmo are in the state. They argued that it might be difficult to identify such ponmo in the market.
Sellers of the product at Swali Market who spoke with our correspondent said it was difficult for contaminated ponmo to get to Bayelsa State because the dealers get their products directly from abattoirs.
Mary, a dealer, said toxic ponmo could be in circulation in the state and people could be consuming it unknowingly.
She urged the government and regulating agencies, especially NAFDAC, to sensitise the masses.
When our reporter visited the popular Yankura Market in Sabon Gari, Kano State, there was a very strange variety of ponmo that has a colouration of the toxic ones described by NAFDAC was on sale.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the variety is totally different from the regular ones that people are used to in terms of colour and quality. It is very light and flexible when compared to the good ones. The prices of both varieties also differ.
Our reporter observed that some buyers who were not aware of the toxic variety were busy buying it at the risk of the health implications.
A buyer who declined to buy ponmo after a chat with our reporter said:
“Walalhi, I am not aware of this. I am hearing this for the first time. If I knew, I wouldn’t have come to buy ponmo at all. I believe that so many people are not aware and are buying it ignorantly.”
“I call on the authority concern like NAFDAC to do everything possible to address the issue and the media to publicize the issue widely,” she added.
“People prefer to go for cheaper things. So, our customers are fully aware of both products. We sell both and we tell our customers the different prices and they select the one they want,” a seller who preferred anonymity said.
Mama Emma, another seller said: “I am aware of that variety in the market and it is cheaper. But I have never bought it nor sold it to anybody.”
In Edo State, a resident said people were not aware of toxic ponmo in the state.
One of the sellers at the Oregbeni Market, in Benin City, Mrs Juliet Orimense:
“We don’t know how to identify toxic ponmo because the dealers get their products direct from abattoirs and we don’t know how to identify them.”
Another seller, Mrs Igbinosa, said she heard about toxic ponmo but was not sure if it had got to the market because people don’t know how to identify it.
Identifying toxic ponmo
Many consumers cannot differentiate between good and toxic ponmo.
While some people said toxic ponmo could be identified by its black colour, others said it was through its taste and thickness.
But basically, toxic ponmo is the one treated with chemicals, which are said to be injurious to human health.
Experts have also said that ponmo roasted with tyres are poisonous and dangerous to human health.
A professor of Animal Biochemistry and Nutrition in the Faculty of Agricultural Science, University of Ado Ekiti, Ayodeji Fasuyi, stated that brown ponmo has no nutritional value other than being a fibre that aids other food digestion.
Also, a professor of Radiation Oncology in the Faculty of Clinical Science, University of Ibadan, Professor Adeniyi Adenipekun, said that ponmo roasted with tyres is hazardous to human health due to the hydrocarbon that are used in tyres production.
Adenipekun, however, said any ponmo not roasted with tyres is safe for human consumption.
An expert, Shakin Agbayewa, expressed worries that a contaminated ponmo posed dangers to society.
“There was a time the Ministry of Agriculture, Health and Environment took it up that people should stop using rubber, plastic and tyres to burn cow skins. When this is done constantly, we are consuming cancer. The chemicals in those plastics are injurious to the health,” he said.
Agbayewa who is the Lagos Deputy Chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) added: “If we are complaining about the ones produced here, what then should we do about the ones brought into the country which we don’t know how it’s processed? To further preserve it, some people use chemicals used in embalming corpses. If we consume contaminated ponmo, whether imported or locally produced, it will put pressure on our health, the health facilities, the labour force, financial resources and the GDP of the country.”
He urged NAFDAC, the Ministry of Agriculture, Health, Environment and other stakeholders to come together and stop the use of plastic and tyres for processing ponmo in abattoirs and other places where it’s processed.
By Maryam Ahmadu-Suka, (Kaduna), Hassan Ibrahim (Maiduguri) Christiana Alabi, Risikat Ramoni (Lagos), Bassey Willie (Yenagoa), Lubabatu I. Garba (Kano) & Usman A. Bello (Benin)