Investigation: Honey products with NAFDAC number impure, compromise health
There is a proliferation of impure honey in major malls and shops in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city. The spread of low quality honey products compromises the health of Abuja residents, Amos ABBA and Rebecca AKINREMI examine five popular honey products in Abuja supermarkets. In the report, they also expose how a NAFDAC official contributes to the circulation of unwholesome honey brands.
Amos ABBA and Rebecca AKINREMI
MANY people who cannot do without sweetener often opt for pure and natural honey from honeycombs made by bees due to its nutritional benefits.
The ICIR randomly visited several shopping outlets in Abuja to purchase “pure unadulterated honey” as the inscription on their containers implied. The findings revealed that consumers of honey products may not be having full information about the products sold to them as “pure honey”.
Laboratory analysis showed that the presence of pathogenic bacteria to high microbial levels, the hygiene and safety status of many of the brands of ‘pure honey’ consumed by the majority of Abuja residents puts their health at risk. And these are brands that bear NAFDAC ‘s mark of approval.
The ICIR’s investigation reveals that some NAFDAC officials are complicit in the proliferation of adulterated honey sold in the capital city.
A compromised official could corrupt the process
In the name of offering “assistance”, officials at NAFDAC’s national office located in Wuse Zone 7, Abuja collect bribes in order to help honey vendors who want to register their products obtain the agency’s approval without going through the regular quality control.
The ICIR reporter, posing as son who wants to get the NAFDAC license for his mother to start her honey business, reached out to a NAFDAC official who is reputed for helping vendors get registration approval through backdoor.
The official identified himself with his first name as Mike but True Caller App on mobile phone revealed his full name is Micheal Ikoro when contacted.
He agreed to meet with the reporter after exchange of several calls. A convenient time was fixed for a meeting in his office at NAFDAC’s headquarters where he promised to facilitate the process for a fee.
The ICIR reporter visited Mike at 11:15 am on Tuesday, 17 December 2019, explained to him that his mother urgently wanted to get her honey products approved by the agency so she could launch her business on a full scale.
“Does she have a shop in Abuja where she runs the honey business because she has to own a shop in Abuja before we can give her NAFDAC number for her to operate in Abuja,” he asked.
When The ICIR reporter replied in the affirmative, he reeled out the names of some documents required before he could secure NAFDAC’s approval number for the honey product.
“Even if the shop is one room you can divide the room into two parts where we can come for inspection though that is not a problem I can handle that aspect.
“But you’ll have to get Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC certificate to show that your business is registered and then the trademark certificate which I will use to help you apply and you will get everything on time,” he said.
The reporter told him the CAC certificate was not a problem but his mother doesn’t have the trademark certificate.
“You’ll have to get the trademark certificate first but I can get it for you,” he added. “I have a friend at the Ministry of Trade who will be able to get it for you within a week if you can pay ₦35,000, that is the price,” he said.
This conversation took place in the hallway because Mike shared office with other staff of the agency, their individual spaces are separated by wooden cubicles. And he wanted to have this conversation far from the earshot of the colleagues.
He assured the reporter that the process of application was supposed to take two weeks but he would be able to get through his connections within a week.
The process involved in obtaining a trademark certificate from the Federal Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment starts with the application at the trademarks and patent department of the ministry which could take at least two months if the trademark application is unchallenged before a certificate is issued.
When he was prodded about the cost of obtaining NAFDAC registration number for the honey product, he was reluctant to open up to the reporter until he is being paid by the reporter to indicate “readiness”.
“It’s not expensive I’ll send it to you when you are ready. You have to apply for it this year because by next year they will increase the tariff so you have to do it this year so when you get the money then I can apply for you and before next week it will be ready,” he said.
However, he sent a Guaranty Trust Bank account number: 0024096778 belonging to Ikpe Michael Ogar, whom he said was his friend at the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Investment where the money would be sent to procure the trademark certificate via WhatsApp.
The ICIR’s investigation reveals that, some officials of Nigeria’s food and drug regulatory agency like Mike act as agents for applicants who want get NAFDAC approval for their products by liaising with their colleagues in other government agencies to facilitate the process of getting the required document “using the backdoor” for a fee.
Meanwhile, it is not NAFDAC’s responsibility to register for a trademark, it only seeks after evidence of registration of Brand Name with Trademark Registry in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.
The ICIR reporter visited several shops within Abuja metropolis to purchase popular honey products namely at Shoprite located both in Apo and Wuse, Next Cash and Carry in Wuse II, a shop in Wuse Market and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture at Area 11.
All the honey products purchased had NAFDAC registration numbers except for the one purchased at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture Ata Kiosk honey, indicating the others had met the food and drug regulatory agency’s guidelines and were fit for consumption.
The names of the honey brands that were bought are A & Shine Honey, Waye’s bee Honey, Kaybecks Pure Honey, Dr Bees Honey and honey product at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture at its Ata Kiosk.
All the honey brands were subjected to tests at the laboratory of the Kaduna State Environmental Protection Authority where their physiochemical and microbiological properties were examined as their brand names were concealed.
The honey samples were analysed to ascertain any form of adulteration comparing their fructose to glucose levels, pH, moisture content, HydroMethylFurfural, HMF, diastase number, viscosity, biological and fungal counts.
The tests result when compared to Codex Alimentarius Honey Standard, a globally recognized standard for assessing honey revealed that the moisture content, pH, and diastase number met the international honey standards.
But the results also showed that all the honey brands contained high traces of pathogenic bacteria growth specifically bacillus spp totalling 2.4 x 1010 Colony Forming Unit, CFU/mL while Kaybecks Pure Honey with NAFDAC registration number 01-8546L contains the highest form of contamination at 0.8 x 10^2 CFU/mL. It was followed by Waye’s Bee while the Ministry of Agriculture honey had the lowest amount of the bacterial counts with 0.6 x 10^2 and 0.2x 10^2 CFU/mL respectively.
Bacillus spp are pathogenic bacteria responsible for diarrhoea, food borne outbreaks and poisoning.
According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, it shows that the presence of isolated bacteria, especially Bacillus spp in honey is an indication of contamination which is a result of unhygienic processing environment and handling.
The microbiological analysis also confirmed all the samples contained counts of Aspergillus niger pathogenic fungi that are capable of inducing allergic responses and infections.
Kaybecks also took the lead with a contamination level of 0.5 x 10^2 CFU/mL while Waye’s Bee with NAFDAC registration number FCT-ABJ-A1-0319-055L follows closely with 0.4 x 10^2 CFU/mL.
Good quality honey must lack pathogenic microorganisms that cause disease or infections according to standards recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, regulations of Hygienic Practice and Codes of Practice.
However, this reflects that the sale of impure honey products in major markets and malls in Abuja is a pointer that NAFDAC does not monitor the microbial status of honey brands in market shelves which is likely to endanger the health of the public.
Microbial presence in honey may compromise health- experts
According to Johnson Kodjo, entomologist and beekeeper, a high level of microbial counts in honey could get an individual prone to infection.
“When there is a high level of microbes in honey, an individual may be prone to infection when ingested,” he said, especially when such an individual has a weak immune system.
He added that a child one-year and below should not be exposed to intake of honey because of the probability of the products containing bacteria due to their handling or other chemical adulteration.
“Adulteration will not give you what you expect from honey,” he said.
The original honey that comes from the bee is rich in vitamin C, fructose and glucose. These values made honey to have an upper hand when compared to other sweeteners like table sugar.
Daniel Olodu, a dietician and lecturer at the Community Health Department of Faculty of Clinical Sciences, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife agreed to how high microbial and fungal counts might compromise people’s health when consumed.
Olodu said honey products turned an avenue for microbial growth when they are not well extracted or not handled well.
“As much as possible, the handling process of honey is very important. The problem at hand at the moment is, hardly will you get well-processed real honey,” he said.
Apart from the nutritional benefits of original honey on humans, it also serves as a method of treatment for medical services.
This is because, explains Olodu, original honey contains anti-bacteria, anti-infective properties and rich in vitamin C that quickens healing of wounds and protects against bacteria.
“If a honey product is not original, you are building up the ladder for non-communicable diseases starting with high body mass index to obesity, hypertension and leading to cardiac diseases… and issue will start sprawling,” he noted.
In a study conducted by researchers from the Waili Foundation for Science in New York, USA and King Saud University in Saudi Arabia which was published on the Scientific World Journal in 2012, Bacillus cereus survived in honey at low temperatures showing that the pathogens multiplied in honey due to external contamination.
Researchers from the University of Dschang in Cameroun in a study published on the African Journal of Biotechnology compared the physicochemical and microbiological characteristics of honey harvested from its Bee Research Farm located in the University and honey obtained from the local markets.
The study revealed that honey from the local markets contained a bacterial type and eight fungi species microbiological contamination but the honey extracted from the bee farms of the university contained no single trace of the microbes.
Expired NAFDAC registration licence, conflicting number
Since NAFDAC has an online database of registered products, The ICIR checked the status of the four honey products with NAFDAC registration number that were purchased.
The Kaybecks Pure Honey that was bought at the Shoprite mall in Apo was recorded but its expiry date for the certification was on 25 August 2017, having been approved on August 26 2015. That means that its licence has expired more than two years ago.
The Dr Bees Natural Honey purchased from the Next Cash and Carry Supermarket had two entries on the website. But none of the entries shares the same NAFDAC registration number with what was bought at the Supermarket. Besides, the product licence has expired since August 2019.
In the part of A & Shine Honey, the NAFDAC registration number was not recorded. Under the section for the Registration number, “Jan-25” was written instead. And the duration for the certification of the honey product was for five years between 2015 and 2020.
Waye’s Bee Co Pure and Natural Honey was not recorded as part of NAFDAC registered products on the online database. It was purchased at Wuse Market.
Honey sellers’ reaction
When The ICIR contacted Waye’s Bee Honey for its response to the findings through the contact provided on the label, the representative said she would not speak on the phone as she could not trust the reporter’s identity even after declaring being a journalist and stated her place of work.
The responder to one of the phone numbers on Kaybecks Pure Honey that had the highest bacterial and fungal counts denied working with the brand. According to her, the number was “forged on the product” as she doesn’t sell honey.
Meanwhile, the second contact provided on the brand reached a representative with the name Rebecca Soremekun. She said the information about the presence of bacteria in the Kaybecks honey surprised her. In a text message, Soremekun wrote that she agreed that “honey ordinarily doesn’t support bacterial growth”. And she promised to get back to the reporter after the company investigates.
The A & Shine honey also expressed disbelief at the presence of bacteria and fungal in its honey product through a phone call to a contact provided on the label. Mrs Adesina who spoke on behalf of the brand said the business entity often carries out scientific tests on the honey product where microbial evaluation is a major part of it. She had requested to conducting another laboratory analysis of the particular honey product that was purchased.
Calls and a text message put across to Dr Bees Honey were yet to receive a response.
Jimoh Abubakar, the Director of the Public Affairs, NAFDAC, agreed that there were lots of counterfeit food and drugs products for sales in the Nigerian markets.
Abubakar speaking with The ICIR at his office on December 20 noted that some people print NAFDAC number on their products’ label without registering with the regulatory agency.
He said the counterfeit was not only about honey but in drugs and other food products. “Some individuals use other people registration number on their products,” Abubakar added.
When The ICIR inquired about the efforts of the agency to address the issue of counterfeits products, he said there were officers on the field to expose fake products.
Abubakar claimed that before NAFDAC registration is issued out for honey products, the agency conducts laboratory test, among other certification processes.
Meanwhile, the NAFDAC is yet to give reply to the expiration of the license of the honey products and the conflicting NAFDAC registration numbers.