Nigeria’s Health Minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole has denied reports that “plastic rice” was being sold in the country, days after the customs service said 2.5 tonnes of the contraband had been confiscated.
BBC reports that Prof. Adewole tweeted that tests by the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) found “no evidence” of plastic material, suggesting the seized bags of rice had been okayed by NAFDAC and were safe for eating.
Prof. Adewole said the agency would “release detailed findings to public as soon as it concludes investigations”, urging Nigerians to remain calm.
Meanwhile, NAFDAC has denied claims by the Health Minister that it has cleared the reported “plastic” rice.
A senior official at NAFDAC said the minister’s Twitter statement “is not their position”.
It is not clear where the seized sacks came from but rice made from plastic pellets was found in China last year.
Lagos customs chief Haruna Mamudu said on Wednesday the fake rice was intended to be sold during the festive season.
Rice is Nigeria’s staple food.
Mr Mamudu had said the rice was very sticky after it was boiled and “only God knows what would have happened” if people ate it.
The BBC’s Martin Patience in Lagos, who felt the rice, said it looked real but had a faint chemical odour.
An official at NAFDAC told the BBC that the tests were still ongoing:
“We are not done with comprehensive tests. We are still in the laboratory. We haven’t concluded analysis and it is not something we can conclude in two days.”
“We are yet to conclude the chemical and biological analysis,” he added.
The Lagos customs boss had called on “economic saboteurs who see yuletide season as a peak period for their nefarious acts to desist from such illegal” business activity.
Meanwhile, there haven’t been any reports of members of the public eating the “plastic” rice.
Customs officials cooked the rice and said that the texture was very gummy and it smelled odd, they refused to eat it.
When asked the same question on Twitter, Health Minister Isaac Adewole joked that no, he wouldn’t eat it without salt.
An unverified video of the rice being cooked has been shared on social media.
In it the cook says the rice catches fire and sticks on the pan.
The BBC reports that it is possible that this is a different type of rice that Nigerians weren’t familiar with just as it is also possible that the Ministry of Health is making an effort to avoid public hysteria in the run-up to Christmas.