A major row erupted between the Nigeria’s food safety agency and the health ministry when the Health Minister Isaac Adewole tweeted that tests by the agency found “no evidence” of plastic material. But the Nigeria’s food safety agency has denied claims by the health minister that it has cleared the reported “plastic” rice. A senior official at the National Agency for Food and Drugs (Nafdac) said the minister’s Twitter statement “is not their position”. All this happened because about 2.5 tonnes of the “plastic” rice has been confiscated around Christmas Season. Rice is Nigeria’s staple food and it is a tradition for people to give bags of rice as a gift during the Christmas period. Lagos customs Chief Haruna Mamudu said on Wednesday the fake rice was intended to be sold during the festive season but has not commented on the health minister’s statement. Mr Adewole had said the agency would “release detailed findings to public as soon as it concludes investigations”, adding that Nigerians should remain calm.
An official at Nafdac said “We are not done with comprehensive tests. We are still in the laboratory. We haven’t concluded analysis and it is not something we can conclude in two days.” he further added “We are yet to conclude the chemical and biological analysis.” It is not clear where the 102 seized sacks of rice came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year. The rice becomes very sticky after it is boiled and had a faint chemical odour but looked real. The Lagos customs chief had called on “economic saboteurs who see yuletide season as a peak period for their nefarious acts to desist from such illegal business activities.” On being asked if the rice was still on sale in the markets, the Custom Chief replied, “We haven’t heard any reports that the rice is still on sale in markets. Customs officials were investigating but as of now have found nothing.” Nigeria’s custom officials say they seized a total of 102 sacks, each containing 25kg, branded “Best Tomato Rice”. It is, however, unclear how many bags had been sold, if any, and if there are other forms of contraband in the market. There are no reports of anybody in the public eating it. Customs officials cooked the rice but refused to eat it and saying that the texture was very gummy and it smelled odd.
Nigerians are very worried and feel selling fake rice was wickedness of the highest order but wondered how could there be such a disagreement between different Nigerian officials. There have been several media reports warning the public about fake foodstuffs especially from China and their potential dangers. Customs officials did say that they were awaiting tests by Nafdac, the food standard agency, before they could confirm what the rice was made of. They suggested they would accept the results of those tests. They were apprehensive, given the texture of rice that was nothing they had seen before, and suggested that it was possible that this might be a different type of rice that they weren’t familiar with. But it can’t be ruled out that the Ministry of Health is making an effort to avoid public hysteria in the run-up to Christmas and New Year season.