KENYA – Kenya’s nutrition regulator is set to get additional powers to police the country’s chaotic food and nutritional supplement industry that is currently dominated by quacks and pseudo-medics.

Proposed amendments to the Nutritionists and Dieticians Act expand regulatory powers of the Kenya Nutritionists and Dieticians Institute (KNDI) to include registration and inspection of businesses that prepare and sell food and food supplements.

The KNDI’s mandate is currently restricted to accrediting professionals working in the sector.

The proposed law gives the institute power to set quality standards and ensure compliance by manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of food and supplements.

KNDI chief executive David Okeyo told the Business Daily that the mandate would enable the institute to deal with people who dupe Kenyans into buying products that are at best ineffective and at worst dangerous.

“Manufacturers will have to explicitly explain what is in their products,” said Dr Okeyo.

The nutritional supplements industry has largely remained unregulated and Dr Okeyo says that there is an alarming rate of “mushrooming masqueraders” who are giving Kenyans empty promises of “killing” diabetes, curing cancer or losing weight.

The supplements have in many cases been proven to be ineffective and even toxic.

Last year, Kenyan doctors raised the alarm over cancer patients being cheated into throwing away fortunes on supplements.

The law has broad implications for the food industry.

If Parliament passes the Bill manufacturers and restaurants will have to open up their doors to KNDI to facilitate the testing of the composition of food products to ascertain their fitness for consumption.

Besides, the manufacturers will have to prove that they have sufficiently informed consumers of the contents of the products.

Dr Okeyo said that if the Bill is passed into law, a restaurant would be legally required to warn diabetic or lactose-intolerant customers of menu items that could potentially harm them.

Traders of harmful food and supplements, those that label their products falsely or fail to register with the KNDI alongside the makers and traders of products under “insanitary conditions” will face fines of up to Sh5 million or jail for up to three years besides losing operating licences. 

The proposed law also promises more stringent regulations for dieticians and nutritionists.

In addition to college diplomas and degrees, they will be required to pass accreditation exams administered by the institute.

Quacks could be fined up to Sh500,000 and face two years in jail, a penalty that is higher than the current Sh100,000.

In addition, anyone found to issue false accreditation certificates will pay Sh1 million as fine, up from Sh500,000.

“If people are masquerading and they can afford to pay the penalty, they will continue to masquerade. We are raising the bar so that they can desist,” said Dr Okeyo.

The Bill, however, raises concern over duplication of responsibilities within the government.

Currently, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) is tasked with enforcing quality standards on manufacturers of food.

Dr Okeyo said that the Bill would not strip Kebs of its duties. Rather, he would have the standards body harmonise its systems with the criterion that nutritionists would develop.

The Food, Drugs and Chemical Substances Act and the Public Health Act set out standards for establishments selling food for public consumption.

The Bill proposes stripping both these laws of the oversight as regards regulating the food business.

May 9, 2017: Daily Nation