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How merchants use insecticide on dry fishes

By Kemi Olatunde

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Drying fish is an age-long tradition of preserving fish from further deterioration after being caught and dried, especially for commercial purposes. In many parts of Nigeria, this is embraced and so many people expose this food product to pesticides mostly as preservatives according to findings.

Generally, fish is a perishable commodity and there has been large-scale deterioration and losses in the quality of processed fish due to the combined effects of insect infestation and other biological agents that flourish under the tropics’ hot and humid conditions. Control measures against insect infestation of dried and smoked fish include the dangerous use of harmful insecticides such as dichlorvos, DDT, and heptachlor to keep away insects and other pests. These pesticides have induced the development of pest resistance, leading to the application of higher pesticide doses.

Numerous studies on both human and laboratory animals provide strong evidence of the toxic potential of exposure to pesticide residues 

The toxic effects of pesticides on man and the environment is a major issue that gives rise to concerns at local, national, regional, and global scales and is the basis for the control, monitoring, and prohibition of pesticides in food.

According to a research by a research institute in Nigeria, this practice grew due to heavy post-harvest losses incurred by fish processors and retailers of cured fish products in Nigeria. Consequently, several means of cutting down on these losses have been devised. Prominent among the methods is the use of pesticides known as the “Chemical Method”. Fish containing pesticides, though free from insects, could be harmful to the consumers. A field survey was undertaken at selected production and marketing centers in Nigeria to investigate the use of pesticides in cured fish production. The results of this study showed that pesticides are used for the preservation of cured fish. The survey equally revealed that the practice is prevalent in northern and middle-belt zones of the country where the use of such chemicals as Gammalin 20, Aerosols(Shelltox), and a locally mixed pesticide called “Otapiapia” are freely used. Most consumers are ignorant of the use as well as the potential health risks associated with pesticides in cured fish. Educators, government, and food technologists in Nigeria need to organize relevant information for the benefit of consumers and fish processors to provide opportunities to limit their use.

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 In line with the above practice, food safety and health experts have warned that food traders, especially those selling dried fish, use insecticides and pesticides to stop flies from perching on them.

They described the act as a dangerous practice that may predispose consumers to health complications and, in a worst-case scenario, instant death when consumed.

The experts also noted that long exposure to such chemical compounds can damage vital organs in the body and may lead to poor treatment outcomes for those with underlying health conditions.

Similarly, some insecticides which are synthetic organophosphorus that belong to the DDVP chemical family (2, 2-dicholorovinyl dimethyl phosphate compound), based on reports, are being indiscriminately used by some Nigerians.

A Professor of Food Science and Technology at Bells University of Technology, Ota, Ogun State, Olugbenga Ogunmoyela, said that people should pay attention to what they eat, to reduce the risk of coming down with diseases.

The food scientist in food technology, nutrition, and processing, said it is dangerous to consume foods contaminated with chemicals and pesticides.

The professor, who is the President of the Society of Testing Laboratory Analysts of Nigeria, said, “Do you know that some people will kill fish and dip it in an insecticide solution? The moment they do that, flies can’t go near it.

“Fish sellers (fresh and dried) are doing it everywhere, and not only in our markets. In those days, they used Gammalin 20. When I was in Benue State, I noticed that it was a very common practice. Now, many fish sellers use insecticide solution and some even smoke dead fish for sale,” he said.

He also noted that besides the chemical contamination of these fishes by their handlers, many rivers have been contaminated

“Many of the fishes that are out there contain mycotoxins because they are not dried with the right moisture and the right packaging materials are not used as well.

“So, those microorganisms build up in the product and the mycotoxins level will also build up. The toxins produced can kill instantly. Don’t forget that many rivers contain contaminants like lead, mercury, and arsenic. These heavy metals can kill”, he added.

According to the World Health Organisation, Mycotoxins are toxic compounds that are naturally produced by certain types of molds (fungi).

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WHO explained that molds that can produce mycotoxins grow on numerous foodstuffs such as cereals, dried fruits, nuts, and spices, adding that the growth can occur before harvest, after harvest, during storage, on or in the food itself, and often under warm, damp and humid conditions.

“Several hundred different mycotoxins have been identified, but the most commonly observed mycotoxins that present a concern to human health and livestock include aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, patulin, fumonisins, zearalenone, and nivalenol/deoxynivalenol.

“The effects of some food-borne mycotoxins are acute with symptoms of severe illness appearing quickly after consumption of food products contaminated with mycotoxins”.

Speaking with The Hope on the development, an Egberi woman in Akure who refused to reveal her identity said that it is wrong for anyone to use harmful chemicals on food items nothing that it could be injurious to consumers of such food items.

“I have been into this fish business for over 30 years. I grew up in the trade as my parents started it. Once the fish is ready for the process, we apply salt which is one of the oldest methods of preserving it. Salting is usually done as such in combination with drying or as a pretreatment to smoking. Using salt on fish can prevent or drastically reduce bacterial action.

“Another way of salting is to put salt water in a big container to soak the fish. you can sprinkle the salt over the fish, soaking it in salt water will make it easier to control saltiness and the salt will spread evenly.

The concentration of salt should be three to 10 percent. Higher concentration can keep the freshness of the fish longer, but the fish will be too salty, and vice versa.”

Some other traders of dry fish who spoke with The Hope denied ever using insecticide to preserve the commodity.

A 60-year-old fish trader who has been in the business for 26 years and simply gave her name as Mummy Justina condemned the use of insecticide on it, noting that it is dangerous to health.

She said that she has never embraced the method, affirming that it is a fact that some other traders use it for preservation.

Speaking further, she said; “On my part, I make use of salt and at times curry as requested by some of my customers, even though it is not as tasty as the one prepared with only salt.

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“I am in the know that some people use insecticide on fish but back in the days of old, our parents used only salt and this prevented it from generating maggot in the fish. I believe that those who use insecticide do not dry it well because if it is well prepared accordingly, it can never bring out maggots. At times, some of my customers request that I give them fish that is half done but the implication is that if it is not consumed on time, it gets spoilt.”

According to an online report, insecticides are chemicals used to kill insects, some of which are dangerous to humans. Many insecticides can cause poisoning after being swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Symptoms may include eye tearing, coughing, heart problems, and breathing difficulties.

The properties that make insecticides deadly to insects can sometimes make them poisonous to humans.

Many insecticides can cause poisoning after being swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. Some insecticides are odorless, thus the person is unaware of being exposed to them. Organophosphate and carbamate insecticides make certain nerves “fire” erratically, causing many organs to become overactive and eventually stop functioning. Pyrethrins can occasionally cause allergic reactions. Pyrethroids rarely cause any problems.

Fish are very important to man economically and they can control diseases.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), there is a significant growth in fish consumption and this has enhanced people’s diets around the world through diversified and nutritious food. In 2013, fish accounted for about 17 percent of the global population’s intake of animal protein and 6.7 percent of all protein consumed.

The protein in fish and shellfish is very easy to digest and research shows that the amino acids in fish are more bioavailable (your body can absorb and use them more readily) than beef, pork, or chicken.  Fish and shellfish also have a balanced quantity of all of the essential amino acids, giving them very high Amino Acid Scores.

It assists in controlling diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and other dreadful diseases that are spread through mosquitoes.

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