Too many food alerts on mercury and other toxins - Daily Nation

Too many food alerts on mercury and other toxins

Sunday July 1 2018

Charles Ongwae

Kenya Bureau of Standards Managing Director Charles Ongwae. He has denied allegations that sugar in the country contains mercury. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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The reason, one of the members told me, is that there are “significant amounts” of mercury being poured into Lake Victoria — mercury that gets into fish through the plants they eat and eventually into humans when they eat the fish.

What’s worse, there is that rule in biology that the consumer always accumulates a load of toxin that is multiple times the amount of toxin in the food eaten. That is scaring the women stiff.

I don’t know which group member preached to them so well as to convince them that the liquid metal is finding its way into fish in our good lake.

Dear Nairobi men whose wives are in WhatsApp groups that exchange ideas, be prepared to miss the delicious source of white meat on your tables for a while. My informer told me that they had also discussed sugar brands to avoid, lest they consume copious amounts of mercury and copper that would send them to early graves.

Scare-mongering or genuine precaution? The former appears to be the case but most of them being mothers, they would be perspicacious at the thought of dying of cancer or other “heavy metal” diseases to leave their children languishing.

It brings to mind the many reports I’ve been reading since I was young. One from University X will say red meat is dangerous; a later one from Institute Y will praise red meat and all the good things it does to the body.

One report done on XXX people over XX years will say coffee before bed is a disaster; another citing YYYY people over YYY years will say there is no harm after all. Remember that Mark Twain joke? “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”

Health books aside, the recent sensational remarks by our leaders about contamination in sugar, juices and tomato sauce did not just generate jokes on social media.

Beyond those light-hearted posts on mercury, there are genuinely scared Kenyans, especially those who have come face-to-face with cancer and know what it can do to you or your loved ones. Cancer is one of the deadly results of consuming heavy metals in food.

To that end, I think our leaders should be more cautious about the remarks they make about contaminants in food. As it stands, there will be more and more foods receiving suspicious stares from Kenyans, knowing that heavy metal contamination starts right from the fertilisers used to nurture crops.

Personally, I live by the “forewarned is forearmed” mantra but again I am always mindful of that question Jesus asked: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?”

Which means I try to worry less about the foodstuff in Nairobi, because if one starts pondering about the origins and preparation methods of the sukuma wiki we eat, the watermelons we chomp, the sugarcane we get readily peeled and all that, one will have officially begun fasting.

There is also a cynical line I read on the internet that is often my motto: “What if the air we breathe is a poison that kills after 100 years?”

Of course it is not true that air is toxic, but whoever came up with the observation must have been trying to illustrate the vanity of taking too much precaution; that at 100, each of us will begin experiencing health complications.

This should also reach those who handle our food. Please don’t sell us what you can’t eat yourself. Don’t wash our sugarcane and watermelons in sewer-infested water because you know our naked eyes can’t see the bacteria, fungi, worms and all manner of vermin swimming and mating on them because even sewerage-polluted water can make them look clean.

But to those who are apprehensive about every other type of food, I think it is about time they stopped banking on unverified claims, lest they be the soul described in the song The Rose “that is so afraid of dying that it never learns to live”.

Elvis Ondieki is a reporter with the Nation. Caroline Njung’e resumes in August