The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) recently alerted the public that some smugglers have begun shipment of plastic rice to Africa from China. Giving the warning, NCS spokesman, Wale Adeniyi, likened the food fraudsters to fake drug dealers who do not mind poisoning an entire community as long as they make huge profit from their unwholesome trade.
The warning should be heeded. And since Nigeria is the highest consumer of parboiled rice in the West African sub-region, the possibility that the bulk of the cancerous shipments would be dumped in the country is high. This is further reinforced by the fact that Nigeria has unmanned borders from where smugglers can ferry the lethal commodity into Nigerian markets.
According to reports, the plastic rice is made using a mixture of sweet potatoes and synthetic resin (plastic). These ingredients are mixed together and formed into “grains” which very closely resemble natural grains of rice. The rice substitute, the reports say, is then sprayed with a fragrance to mimic the smell of Wuchang rice (a more expensive brand in high demand) thus making it difficult to distinguish between the two brands.
The reports also reveal that the man-made rice looks the same as the real rice in terms of shape and size, however, the plastic remains hard after cooking, a development, nutritionists say, is dangerous to the human body.
It is good, therefore, that the Customs has warned the public about this present danger. But apart from that, the NCS should increase its surveillance to ensure that the poisonous rice does not enter our shores. And if some nefarious smugglers have brought it in, the NCS must ensure that the deadly rice is confiscated and those behind it apprehended and prosecuted. The pre-shipment inspection and that at the port of disembarkation should be strengthened by the Customs to ensure that the poisonous rice entering our local markets is prevented.
We advise that the poisonous rice and other such harmful food items are prevented outright from ever entering our shores, but with our knowledge of the activities of desperate smugglers and their numerous collaborators, that possibility may not be realistic. We call for effective monitoring by all the relevant agencies of government to ensure that anywhere the harmful rice and other food items are found, the full weight of the law is brought to bear on the offenders.
What exactly is the penalty for bringing in the deadly cargo into the country? If the present provisions in our law books are not enough deterrent, they should be quickly strengthened to ensure maximum punishment for any infraction. In our view, this offence amounts to the willful termination of lives and should be met with the severest punishment.
This is why we call on other relevant government agencies, like the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) to increase their collaboration and surveillance efforts with the Customs to ensure that the poisonous rice is not allowed entry into our shores.
We condemn any Nigerian citizen involved or contemplating the nefarious act. Those importing rice should not put profit motive far above the health of Nigerians. There can be no justification whatsoever for the importation of the poisonous rice. Not even the present economic downturn can be used as a cover for such a heinous crime.
Government, on its part, must be proactive in its engagement with citizens to ensure that the plan to flood our local markets with poisonous food items is nipped in the bud. Enlightenment campaigns should be intensified by the government to let the public know of the poisonous rice and its implication on the health of the people.