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Mugo sounds alert over toxic maize imports

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 6 – The government warned on Friday of a possible leak into the market of 6,350 metric tonnes of contaminated maize that could cause kidney failure, mental problems, and burning of the skin and eyes among other ailments.

Public Health Minister Beth Mugo sounded the alert, saying that maize imported from South Africa in November last year was certified as tainted with high levels of aluminium phosphide by the government chemist and Kenya Bureau of Standards.

“Nobody else can come and say that the grain is safe for consumption apart from my Ministry. But then there are other arms of government who are looking after the security to make sure it is not offloaded,” she said.

“So my officers have said the maize is not good and it should never have been allowed into the country and we are wondering why it was allowed in. In fact we would like to know who has this interest in the maize,” the Minister said in a press conference.

Aluminium phosphide is a colourless solid chemical compound which is generally sold as a grey-green-yellow powder and is used as a fumigant (for pest control).

Mrs Mugo said only 95 metric tonnes found to be discoloured were re-shipped to their country of origin with the same vessel that had transported the grain to Kenya.

“As far as Public Health (Ministry) was concerned, all of it needed to go back because the sample was scooped four metres deep, so it is very representative of the whole lot,” she said.

“So it is strange that they would decide to scoop so much and take it back and not take the whole amount. We are sacrificing Kenyans’ health for profit.” 

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Three other hatches in the same shipment were found fit for human consumption and immediately released into the market.

Director of Public Health Dr Shahnaaz Sharif said the first hatch had 3,860 metric tonnes of maize, the second and fourth hatches had 5,399 and 5,200 metric tonnes of the grain respectively.

The third hatch, which is in contention, had close to 6,500 metric tonnes.

“There were physical barriers between the hatches so there was no possibility of the three other consignments getting contaminated,” Dr Sharif assured.

Deputy Chief Public Health officer John Kariuki said under the maritime laws it was the Kenya Ports Authority that was supposed to ensure the contaminated maize was not offloaded from the vessel, MV Fonarun Naree, at the Kilindini port in Mombasa.


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