Fish Imports From China Found to Contain Toxic Substances

  • Fried Tilapia, Ugali, Sukuma Wiki and Kachumbari in Kenya The Standard
  • Part of the fish imported into Kenya and the larger East African region from China contains traces of heavy metals, which are harmful to human health, a study has confirmed.

    The laboratory tests commissioned by The EastAfrican show, came after health concerns were recently raised by several countries, including the US, that called for tighter controls in the enforcement of safety and health checks by Chinese authorities over their fish products.

    According to drug sample analysis of residue done by the University of Nairobi's laboratory, the fish purchased from a wholesale dealer at Nairobi's Gikomba market contained lead, mercury, copper, and arsenic.

    The results, though in levels permissible by the WHO standards, confirmed residues of 0.04 ppm of lead, 0.005 ppm of mercury, >0.001 ppm of arsenic and 1.2 ppm of copper, indicating possible contamination of the water ponds used to farm the fish.

    A fishmonger in Kenya

    According to Prof James Maria, the head of the Department at the University of Nairobi's Public Health, Pharmacology and Toxicology, "The results show that these fish have permissible limits, but it is still worrying that their presence can still be detected in them.

    "Long-term exposure to these metals for the human body, through frequent consumption of such food, can have a disastrous effect, and therefore their presence and long-term effects in the human body poses serious health risks," Prof Mbaria disclosed.

    The presence of the heavy metals in the imported fish means that they were exposed to either the use of petrol powered water pumps or pesticide application apparatus, that lead to contamination of their ponds.

    He further commented, "Heavy metals can cause serious health hazards, and any potential dietary exposure to lead or mercury possesses a possible risk to human health."

    The permissible limits by the World Health Organization (WHO) are 0.5 ppm for lead and mercury, 1ppm for arsenic and 30 ppm for copper. However, in an ideal situation, the metals should not be detected in the first place.

    Statistics available in Tanzania and Kenya show that there was a high consumption of fish imported from China, which was generally cheaper than the local fish from lakes, rivers, and farms in the region, making it more popular in restaurants, food kiosks, and homes.

    In Kenya, nonetheless, all imports must be inspected and tested by the Kenya Bureau of Standards so as to meet certification.

    However, when KEBS was asked what kind of standards it employed, including how frequently the fish was subjected to tests, and whether the agency had flagged such concerns, the agency did not respond.

    fishermen in Lake Victoria

    According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya spent Kshs2.2 billion on fish imports in the first 11 months of 2017, with the Chinese fish market accounting for more than 90 per cent of these imports.

    The East African show called for tighter controls in the enforcement of safety and health checks by Chinese authorities over their fish products as reported by Nation.

    In October, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a ban on fish imports from China in a bid to protect the local industry.