US popcorn maker told Nigerian consumers its popcorn is free of trans fats. They lied

AN investigation by The ICIR shows that Foodtown International, a US-based grocery company and makers of Foodtown popcorn, mislead its Nigerian consumers, claiming its popcorn doesn’t have any trans fats, a substance that causes cardiovascular diseases. But laboratory tests prove they lied.

On the shelves of major supermarkets and malls in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory and Lagos, it is common to see foreign microwaved popcorn on display. Many Nigerians snack on popcorn as a way to ward off hunger or avoid heavy meals.

The ICIR had randomly purchased five popcorn brands from different malls and supermarkets within Abuja and subjected them to a physicochemical test to ascertain the compounds present in the popcorn.

All the popcorn were in their original sealed packs when tested at the United Nations Basel Convention Regional Coordinating Center for Africa at the University of Ibadan.

One of the microwave popcorn tested was bought from the Shoprite store in Wuse Zone 5, Abuja and manufactured by Foodtown Foods in Woodbridge, New Jersey, US. The label on the pack read that it had zero gram of trans fat.


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Lab test, however, showed that Foodtown popcorn contained 12.7 per cent of trans fats, mostly compounds of octadecadienoic acids, which are enough to be considered potent.

Laboratory analysis on Foodtown Foods popcorn also reveals that 12.7 per cent of trans fats indicates an estimated 47 gram of trans fats per serving. This quantity of trans fat in food violates the WHO specifications and US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations that stipulate that if a label on a product reads zero gram of trans fat, it should not contain above 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.

Artificial trans fats, which are present in commercially baked foods, margarine processed foods, increase diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a national limit of 2 g of industrially produced Trans Fatty Acids, TFA per 100 gram as the total fat in all foods.

The finding confirms that popcorns imported into Nigeria Foodtown Foods have trans fat content above the WHO and the US approved levels, but the manufacturer gives false information to its Nigerian consumers.

One of the frontline trade companies involved in the influx of foreign grocery products in Nigeria is Rumez International, an international company that imports and distributes grocery products to Nigeria from the United States, US.

Founded by Robert Umeozulu in 1995, in Maryland, US, the company partners with other US companies seeking to enter or expand its operations in the Nigerian market, according to information on its website.

Some US companies on Rumez International’s list include Hormel Foods, Gelspice Foods, Faultless Starch Company, Dauus Company and Foodtown International Inc.

The company does not own any social media account, as searches for Rumez International on Twitter and Facebook return nothing.

A representative of Rumez International, who didn’t disclose his name but True Caller revealed his name as Bob Bob, confirmed to The ICIR that Rumez International are the sole suppliers of Foodtown microwave popcorn to Shoprite stores Abuja.

“We are the suppliers of Foodtown popcorn to Shoprite in Abuja. I also want you to understand that we are not the manufacturers of the popcorn, but we can relay this new information about the product to manufacturers, and we will get back to you,” he said.

Foodtown is not the only company that provides false promotional information about products sold to Nigerians.

In 2017, the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) confiscated 1,000 bags of rice in Osogbo when it received information that rice sellers had reduced the quantity of rice by removing some measures from the bags of rice and re-sealing it back for sale.

The standards body often had time expressed worry over the proliferation of substandard goods in the country but pledged to ensure the safety of Nigerian consumers.

Saddled with the responsibility of improving measurement accuracy of products and circulation of information relating to standards across the country, the agency was established by SON Act No. 14, 2015.






     

     

    When The ICIR shared its findings with the  SON Head of Public Relations Rilwan Fashina,  he said the agency was not responsible for clamping down on companies but were actively involved in surveillance.

    “We are not responsible for clamping down on companies who don’t have the Nigerian Standard Certification, but we look out for indigenous companies whose products don’t meet up with our standards and also imported goods to identify these products to get them out of the market,” he said.

    The ICIR also reached out to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to know its role before foreign products, especially food and beverages, are brought into Nigeria.

    In response to The ICIR enquiry, the spokesperson of the agency Abubakar Jimoh said only the Director-General could speak to The ICIR about NAFDAC’s role in safeguarding the nation’s health. But there was no response from the agency after 48 hours of waiting. A reminder message sent earlier on Monday, April 26, also has not received any response.

    Amos Abba is a journalist with the International Center for Investigative Reporting, ICIR, who believes that courageous investigative reporting is the key to social justice and accountability in the society.

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