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Health challenges rise as Nigerians revert to locally packaged salt

By Maria Famakinwa

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Many Nigerians now patronize unbranded and substandard locally packaged salt known as monosodium glutamate (MSG) products because it is affordable despite health experts warning against it. A visit to any market would leave one shocked at the rate citizens  developed a taste for MSG with nothing to prove its consumption safety.

 Monosodium Glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a flavour enhancer that has been used effectively for over a century to bring out the best flavors in food. Nigeria’s food culture being an age-old tradition of spicy and seasoned delicacies that fill the environment with an inviting aroma is a match made in palatability for the adoption of monosodium glutamate in their cooking, hence its preference. As delicious as this combination may sound, there is danger in the abuse of the market with unbranded monosodium glutamate by merchants who are bent on forcing unhealthy foods down people’s throats These unbranded monosodium glutamates are sold in the open from uncovered sacks with different measurements to unsuspecting buyers who have chosen quantity over quality.

According to the United Nations, an estimated 9.2 million Nigerians constitute six percent of the global population with food consumption gaps and depleted livelihoods with Nigeria currently ranking 103 out of 116 countries assessed with a Global Hunger Index of 28.3 percent with at least five percent of the global burden of under-nutrition and more than 14 million malnourished children. This reason alone is responsible for why Nigerians mix ingredients just to survive,” the report stated.

 Sellers of these substandard products more often than not lay claim to being superior as renowned brands than those we already know. They do everything to convince gullible consumers that branding a product is not a yardstick to determine its originality once it can serve the same purpose. Some of the consumers who patronize unbranded MSG told The Hope that they have been eating such MSG for years without experiencing any health issues.

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A woman who simply gave her name as Iya Nofisat, was approached at Oja-Oba market after she poured MSG popular called salt in local parlance into a sizable bowl with different measurements expecting customers. She maintained that there was nothing wrong with consuming such a product and that it was wrong for anybody to term it fake just because it was not branded like others.

Her words: “This is what I have been selling for years and also used to cook without having any health challenges. The fact that it is not branded doesn’t make it fake. It is for consumers to make their choices between branded and non-branded salts. Most people running restaurants also patronize us and none of them have complained against the salt. Both branded and not branded salts serve the same purpose and I see no reason for discrimination between them,” she said.

Sharing a similar view, a consumer who also preferred unbranded salt argued that it would have been banned if it posed any threat to human health as being  rumoured by some people. To her, it helps consumers to cut costs. She said: “Unbranded salt helps consumers to buy according to their abilities which helps to cut costs. If such seasoning truly poses any threat to customers, it would have been banned from the market.

“Besides, this type of salt is what everybody has been eating for years before the introduction of the branded ones. I remember that in the early70s- to ’90s, it was the so-called unbranded salt that everyone used for cooking without any problem. Why is it now that people are condemning it as dangerous to health? Our forefathers also used the same salt during their days and they lived longer than this present generation who preferred branded salts. No matter what people say against it, I will continue to patronize the salt for my cooking because I have no problem with it.” 

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Another consumer of unbranded MSG, Mrs. Maureen Edward, hinted that nothing can convince her that unbranded salt is harmful for consumption because she has been using it for a long time without any problem. The woman who opined that it was a tactic to increase the sales of branded salts said: “We like to be deceived in this country. Now unbranded salt is bad because some people want to sell their market. Let me be sincere with you, most consumers go for unbranded salt because it has existed for years and nothing can change it.

“It is advances in technology that are affecting us including the food we eat. Before the introduction of branded MSG, terminal diseases were not known only for them to come with the warning against consuming unbranded salt that it was not rich in iodine. The same unbranded salt my parents used to cook while we were growing up. Well, I need more facts to be convinced against using unbranded salt because I understand that all the salts are gotten from rivers which makes them the same.”

When told that manufacturers of unbranded salt could not be traced, she disagreed and asked: “Does it mean that those selling it are the ones producing it? They also bought it from the manufacturers and well packaged in sacks. The only difference is that branded salts are packaged by manufacturers in different sachets. I don’t see anything different from the two,” she argued.

A marketing expert, Mr Godwin Omoh, who advised consumers against patronizing unbranded salts said that there is no arguing the fact that consuming such could pose serious health challenges as he appealed to consumers to verify important details like NAFDAC approval, brand name, expiry date among others before paying for any product. He said: “Though, one may be tempted to buy cheap products and in large quantities, it is important to remember that they may be compromising their health in the process.

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“According to a report on ‘Food Consumption And Human Health’, all over the world, health is considered a major issue, and the health of any nation or society stems from the kind of foods residents of such society consume. The alarming part is that the manufacturers of unbranded MSG cannot be traced to check for their authenticity.  More worrisome is that they are sold on the cheap which could be a signifier of their being substandard and unhealthy for human consumption.

”This aptly demonstrates how significant the food we eat is critical to our health. Given the level of sensitization created by health experts and nutritionists over the last few years, one is safe to conclude that people are increasingly becoming conscious of what they take in and how it can impact their growth or health. But in the face of hunger ravaging many developing countries such as Nigeria, food consumption is now seen more as survival than quality intake. In Nigeria, food is consumed mostly for survival. Like other developing countries, there is little or no attention paid to the nutrient constituents and the impact of food on health,” he said.

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