Disturbed by the low media spotlight on the dangers associated with consumption of foods containing trans fats, the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN) and the Network for Health Equity and Development (NHED) on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 organised a training for journalists on effective reportage of trans fat issues in Nigeria.
Trans fat, also called trans-unsaturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids, is a type of unsaturated fat that occurs in small amounts in meat and milk fat.
The training, which had key officials of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) in attendance, drew participation from over 20 print and electronic media organiszations, and was informed by the need to increase reportage of trans fats in Nigerian media publications and broadcast.
Director-General of NAFDAC, represented by the agency’s Director, Public Affairs, Dr. Jimoh Abubakar, observed that there was a clear nexus between culture and diet and that the fast foods culture among the current generation of Nigerians exposes them to trans fats consumption. The fallout of this, is the rise in diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases, among others.
Abubakar said that because of the critical need for intervention at government level, NAFDAC is at the fore of the campaign to eliminate trans fats in Nigerian foods through legislation. According to him, the draft Fats and Oils Regulations 2019 and the Pre-Packaged Foods, Water and Ice Labelling Regulations 2019 currently on NAFDAC website for public input till March 9, 2020, are expected to compel the oils and fats industry to adhere to global standards eliminating trans fats from foods when approved by the agency’s council.
He stressed the importance of the media as a partner in creating awareness on the dangers of trans fats and gauging the perception of the public about the draft Regulations.
Speaking in the same vein, Country Director of NHED, Dr. Emmanuel Sokpo, explained that, for any journalist reporting trans fats, a foundation on how the body works, particularly the cardiovascular system, is important.
Sokpo emphasised the role of a functional heart and the circulatory system in the overall wellbeing of the individual. He noted that consumption of trans fats had exposed Nigerians to a wide range of cardiovascular diseases which include: Coronary heart disease, Cerebro-vascular Disease, Peripheral Arterial disease, Rheumatic Heart Disease, and Congenital Heart Disease. Others are Venous Thrombosis & pulmonary embolism, Heart muscle disease (Cardiomyopathies) and Hypertensive heart disease.
The doctor explained that cardiovascular CVDs are the number one cause of death globally, with more people dying annually from it than from any other cause.
Going further, he said that official statistics show that an estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs in 2016, representing 31% of all global deaths, and that over three quarters of the deaths take place in low- and middle-income countries like Nigeria.
Dr. Jerome Mafeni, a board member of NHED, explained that while fats and oils are an indispensable part of our diet, consuming hydrogenated fats would lead to ill health and death. Mafeni who is also Project Advisor Elimination of TFAs from Nigerian Food Supply cautioned on the intake of chips, burger, and pizza, among others, insisting that in their preparation, trans fats are heavily used.
He countered the fats and oils industry argument that transition to trans fats-free alternatives were expensive, pointing out that, banning TFAs will not change much because there are credible alternatives that will save lives.
Taking a cue from that, Dr. Eva Edwards, Deputy Director, Food Safety and Applied Directorate Division in NAFDAC, took participants through Understanding NAFDAC Efforts in Achieving Trans Fat -Free Nigeria.
Dr. Edwards explained that the media was key in the agency achieving its awareness drive on trans fats. She also gave a breakdown of key provisions of the draft Regulations on Oils and Fats, with emphasis on a proposal that ensures that a product declared trans fat-free, must not contain more than 1 gram of 100gram of product.
She charged the media to also spotlight the informal sector that also exposes Nigerians to transfats through bleaching of palm oil and the use and reuse of oils in cooking.
In his intervention, ERA/FoEN Head, Media and Campaigns, Philip Jakpor, re-echoed the need for the media to conduct in-depth research and write incisive reports that will educate Nigerians on TFAs and influence policy directives.
Earlier, Deputy Executive Director of ERA/FoEN, Akinbode Oluwafemi, explained that the training was targeted at building the capacities of Nigeria journalists to understand and exhaustively report on TFAs and its link with poor health for consumers; strength the relationship between journalists, civil society groups and NAFDAC on TFA; and sharing knowledge, best practices, research about TFA locally, nationally, regionally and internationally.