KENYA – The hashtag #whitealert has been trending in Kenya after a leading TV station aired an expose on the prevalence of Aflatoxins in Kenyan maize meal, as millers condemned the country’s standards regulator over its testing protocols of the deadly toxin.
In the expose, aired on the evening of November 10, 2019, the TV station NTV interviewed a number of experts, including food safety and medical experts, plus the country’s Minister of Agriculture on the Aflatoxins menace in the country.
The expose comes a few days after the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), the standards regulator withdrew the conformance permits for a number of leading maize meal brands from sale, citing test results that revealed the products had surpassed the permissible levels of Aflatoxin – a move that has been cited as a pre-emptive strike by KEBS in the face of the expose.
“Following continued market surveillance as well as multiple public reports, Kenya Bureau of Standards has noted that some brands of maize meal products offered for sale do not meet the requirements of Kenya Standards,” said the regulator in its press statement.
KEBS revealed that it had established that 5 brands – Dola, Kifaru, Starehe, 210 and Jembe – had failed to meet the relevant Kenyan Standards, and therefore their permits had been suspended and the manufacturers instructed to discontinue manufacturing or offering for sale the affected maize meal products.
Additionally, the regulator asked the millers to recall all the maize meal products from the market and institute corrective actions. Further, it instructed supermarkets to recall all their maize meal products from the market.
In a rejoinder, Kitui Flour Mills, whose Dola brand was one of the affected, has however, faulted the move by KEBS, arguing that its internal and third party testing of its maize meal products revealed that its products conformed to the requirements.
“As a company, we take utmost responsibility in providing quality products to our customers. We have done so for over 20 years, delivering the highest quality of food through rigorous standards set in our production processes,” said the miller in a press release, signed by its General Manager, who was however, not named.
“For the record, our internal auditing and external laboratories have brought back results showing levels in our products much lower (1.5 ppb) than the allowed maximum (10 ppb) by Kenyan standards. And so have 3 other independent laboratories,” the GM added, explaining that the results are bound to differ from laboratory to laboratory.
Huge concern with Aflatoxins
The expose by NTV has received strong reaction from Kenyans online, with many concerned with the food safety system in the country, considering the revelation that Moi Referral & Teaching Hospital, one of the leading hospitals, revealed that there is a strong link between cancer of the cervix in women and the level of Aflatoxins in food products, according to a recent study done at the institution.
The experts interviewed also added the strong link between liver cancer, stunting among children and even death, as some of the effects of this silent toxin.
Cancer, which used to be a rare disease in Kenya, has of late hit the headlines for its surge – with Aflatoxins contamination being fingered as one of the causative agents due to Kenyans reliance on maize as their main source of food.
The expose further revealed that apart from grains and oilseeds, including peanuts, which have also been in the news recently for Aflatoxins contamination, the level of milk contaminated with the toxin in Kenya is exceedingly high and must be checked.
Mwangi Kiunjuri, who is the Minister for Agriculture, explained that while Kenya has failed to contain the surge of Aflatoxins in maize due also in part to regional trade in the commodity, the country must up the ante in reducing the menace in the next decade to ensure a healthy population.