Security printer drawn into Kenya’s fake sugar scandal

Kenya is in the throes of a national food safety scandal after thousands of bags of counterfeit and potentially dangerous sugar have been discovered in the supply chain.

All told around 400,000 bags of sugar have been seized as part of the investigation into the illicit trade, which according to local news reports was prompted by the discovery of sugar labelled unfit for human consumption – with traces of mercury and copper and moisture levels that could encourage microbial growth – on sale to the public.

There are reports that some of the seized sacks bore fake stickers indicating they had been certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). And the fallout from the probe is widespread, with allegations flying about that government officials, including some from KEBS, as well as politicians and prominent business figures are complicit in the illicit activity.

The Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek) issued a statement last week saying that “What is shocking…is the audacity of the scammers to print fake Kenya Bureau of Standards stickers within the KEBS premises.”

The organization is seeking the immediate cancellation of the tender awarded to Madras Security Printers Ltd, an Indian company contracted by the government to produce certification labels, and the sacking of all senior KEBS officials other than recently-appointed chairman Mugambi Imanyara.

It also wants all Madras printed labels to be recalled from the market, the current certification marks to be annulled and new ones put in place within 90 days.

The illicit activity seems to be focused around Eastleigh, a suburb of Kenyan capital Nairobi, with seizures of falsified sugar also made in Kiambu and Machakos counties. At least three traders have been charged with offering substandard sugar in Kabras brand sacks for sale, although the manufacturer of Kabras – West Kenya Sugar Company – denies that the seized sugar is its own product.

A letter sent to wholesalers, supermarkets and retail shops by Kenya’s Ministry of Health indicates that “unsafe sugar has been placed in the market for human consumption which could be injurious to the health of consumers.”

The letter asks  suppliers and stockists to “subject all sugar to sampling, testing and analysis to ascertain its safety.”

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