A non-entity discreet lab has stirred the country's that usually has people who hardly mind to read the labels of the food packs they eat into believing the country’s big meat company has been feeding them on a chemical used to embalm dead bodies
By Nyalubinge Ngwende
Usually the aftermath of the ruling Patriotic Front trouncing opposition political parties in by-elections is dominated by debates how the government is wasting resources on parliamentary by-elections it is inducing by offering positions in government to opposition MPs if they defected.
Yesterday the ruling party scooped the Feira constituency by election with a landslide victory, with former MMD MP retaining his parliamentary seat which he re-contested on the patriotic Front.
But both the political pundits from the ruling party and the opposition are not preoccupied what went right or wrong over the poll, but the issue of meat allegedly containing a poisonous chemical aromatic aldehydes, imported from Europe by the country’s biggest company—ZAMBEEF—has dominated social media discussions and debate.
Hullaballoo about the aldehydes chemical in ZAMBEEF meat follows a story by the national broadcaster ZNBC main news report which quoted a Copperbelt based laboratory findings.
In the usual manner of manufacturing consent reporting style aimed at raising public outrage, ZNBC called aromatic aldehydes as a chemical used to embalm dead bodies.
And Zambian health minister Joseph Kasonde said government was instituting its own tests on the meat and warned of consequences if it is found true.
Following up debate on the matter gives the insight about the aromatic adelhydes and their long use in the processed food products.
A legal academician Elias Munshya Wa Munshya in his comment posted on the Zambian People’s Parliament FaceBook social page at 21.01 hours last night argues:
“We have been having these aldehydes for years. This is the same chemical that gives ice-cream that vanilla aroma. This is the same chemical that is used in most spices. This is the same chemical that is used in processed foods to give them that fresh meaty smell. I do not know why you are trying to create a storm where there is none.”
He adds: “We have been munching on these for years. No one has ever died or even fallen sick. However, I know several of our people in Butondo who today have respiratory problems because of pollution from Mopani, and what has Hon Kasonde done about it? Nothing. It is not public interest they are trying to protect, it is there own personal selfish interests by stocking fear in Zambians over substances which are by themselves not harmful. The PF government is a directionless government which has no clue and will end up being embarrassed over this so called manufactured scandal. More lies in our pockets”.
The issue of ZAMBEEF has not escaped outcry of political machinations to fix the company by government as way of trying to hurt one of its shareholders, opposition United Party for National Development leader, Hakainde Hichilema.
If this issue about ZAMBEEF is about settling political scores then we are really a very bad nation that is not being truthful to ourselves.
If it is not, as it has been heard so far that almost all farm products and processed foods are laced with aromatic aldehydes, then what need to be established is what are the effects of this chemical on the health of the people and what amounts are acceptable.
The reputation of the Copperbelt laboratory, which is still discreet, must be scrutinised to ensure its analysis is ethical given that it has made a big food safety scandal work on ZAMBEEF.
ZAMBEEF is a company that has abattoirs under regular public health inspection and whose imported meat undergoes several checks as it crosses the oceans before finally hitting the freezers in Zambian malls. We know this is a country where one has to struggle to find meat that meets all the hygiene and health concerns, but ZAMBEEF is quite responsible.
And if so, what has motivated this lab to go after them, and what is the efficacy of its analysis and is this its first work? These are difficult questions to answer.
But what is also surprising is that on ZAMBEEF the government has taken a different path, expressing unusual interest in the matter. It has failed to outright rebuff the findings as it did with the University of Zambia nutritionist who said Soya beans products had adverse health effects on human beings.
Honorable Haggai Amanda Phiri, contributing to the debate on the virtual social media parliament asked: “Why can't government close Zambeef?”
Another member Colin L Phiri in fact expresses shock at health minister, Kasonde’s reaction.
“I'm saddened with the swift energy at which our Minister of health has responded on the ZAMBEEF saga...it calls for concern as to why such pace is not seen on the lack of Oxygen at UTH, malaria medicines and the ARVs in hospitals around the country. It therefore goes without saying that most processed meat contains preservatives that are NOT embalming but to preserve the product before it expires. How such has been reduced to embalming is beyond me.”
The sure reason why people think this is a politically motivated revelation without is how limited the work of food safety testing has been.
They want to see such investigations go beyond ZAMBEEF or else the conclusion of selecting the meat company out of all others will be misconstrued, especially that one of the big shareholders is an opposition political party leader for UPND.
But one member ZAPP, Cheleman Nshitima reacted saying “Mr. Hon Zapp Speaker, I’m sadden[d] by some comments doing the rounds in the house. One thing is quite clear here, Zambeef is not a private company which the govt can take over simply on these simple grounds. As a matter of fact/s, Zambeef is a public company listed both on LUSE and the London stock exchange (LSE) meaning that the company belongs to ordinary people. And some people, out of pure hatred for PF govt are now blaming the gov[ernment] for being decisive and protecting the public, may be because such people live abroad in Canada they don’t feel for the ordinary on the ground. Here in the UK, we have had business people who have been prosecuted for such acts and why not in Zambia?”
He further argues: “On the other hand, hon. Edith Z Nawakwi has alleged corruption and that Zambeef is being shielded by govt officials, so which is which? And oh, HH does not have shares nor is he a major supplier for Zambeef people get your facts right and according to Zambeef itself, HH is in fact their competitor so, where does this nonsense of fixing HH coming from huh?
Logic is that if HH is a competitor then he stands to gain from this whole saga, anyone competitor stands to win if Zambeef is found wanting here.”
As seen so far, the appeal to Zambians is to be level headed as they debate this delicate matter which is the first food safety scam to enter the country’s public domain. At stake is not just business, but the health of many people the mishandling of the issue might cause to freak out over a storm in a cup of coffee.