Public health officials in Kitui County have obtained court orders to destroy a consignment of government relief maize being distributed in the area.
The Mutomo District officials, went to court after the National Public Health Laboratory Services examined the maize samples and condemned the relief food as unfit for human consumption.
The court ordered the contaminated grain to be destroyed under police supervision. This was after analysis by the Government Chemist found the maize to contain high levels of moisture, mould and discoloured appearance common in toxic maize.
Mutomo resident magistrate Samuel Mutai ordered the World Food Programme, the Catholic Diocese of Kitui, local police and government agencies involved in relief food distribution to halt the exercise and burn the maize in 21 days.
The Catholic Diocese is the lead agency in the distribution of relief food. The news of contaminated maize sparked fears among the residents over a possible recurrence of the deadly Afflatoxin food poisoning, which claimed more than 200 lives in 2005.
The court action comes amid a major dispute between the government and residents over the distribution of the bad maize as relief food.
Public health officer Amos Kilunda said they moved to court in public interest to prevent possible loss of lives.
“We disagreed with other departments over procedures of solving the mess. I seized the bad maize and then proceeded to get court orders to destroy them” Mr Kilunda said.
The 180 bags to be destroyed are part of 10,000 bags rotten maize that had been given out to 10 districts in the county for distribution.
Residents rejected the relief maize, terming the offer as an insult.
MPs Isaac Muoki (Kitui South) and Charles Nyamai (Kitui West) criticised the exercise and threatened to sue the government if the relief maize is not withdrawn.
“Kitui County is not a dumping ground for all the trash in government grain stores,” said Mr Nyamai.
“This mischief to risk people lives in the name of feeding the starving is unacceptable. The government must halt the exercise forthwith.”
Efforts to get comment from Eastern provincial commissioner Claire Omolo and her deputy, Joseph Otieno, over the matter were fruitless because their mobile phones went answered.
The two MPs who blamed Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s office for the failing to stop importation of bad maize alleged a political motive by certain forces to create a wedge between elected leaders and the people.
“We have lost hundreds of people in recent past over similar food poisoning blunders, we’ll not allow government to cause another
catastrophe. This food must be withdrawn and fresh one supplied” Mr Muoki said.
He wondered why DCs were intimidating chiefs to distribute the bad cereals when it has already been condemned by two government agencies and advised locals to reject the relief food.
The shocking revelations came as the Kenya Bureau of Standards disclosed that they rejected 5000 tonnes of maize shipped from Malawi for not meeting the minimum standards but were compelled by acting minister for Industrialization Amason Kingi and his permanent secretary Kibicho Karanja to clear the consignment.
Mr John Abongs, who is in charge of inspection and quality assurance at Kebs, said the maize had a moisture content of above 13.5 per cent.
It was also discoloured, some was broken and had a lot of defective matter.
The PS told a joint session of three parliamentary committees last week that he authorized the clearance because the country was facing starvation, and there was urgent need for relief supplies.
“There wasn’t going to be any maize in the market even for the non-starving Kenyans.” Dr Karanja said adding the food shortage in
the country made it mandatory to allow into the country.
According to certificates of analysis obtained by the Nation, the Kitui consignment is unfit for human consumption because it contains
moisture content above the regulatory limits.
The tests by the Government Chemist were done on August 2, at the request of the local public health officials after residents
complained that the maize was mould. The results promptly communicated to district commissioners who are in charge of the distribution process.
Mr George Ogana, a public analyst at the government laboratories invoked the Food, drugs and chemical substances Act to declare the
consignment should be destroyed.
However, to the utter regret of the locals, district commissioners went ahead to direct chiefs and their assistant chiefs to ensure the
bad maize is fully distributed within their jurisdictions.
According to a district officer who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from his seniors, the consignment was distributed in Kitui central, Kisasi, Katulani, Mutomo, Ikutha, Mutito, Nzambani, Kitui west, Yatta and Matinyani districts with each area getting 1,000 bags.
An 82 year old woman in Kabati area of Kitui west constituency is among residents who experienced vomiting and diarrhea after consuming the bad maize supplied by the government Mrs Naomi Syovata Muasya from Kyondoni village narrated how she became
sick after eating the maize and that she was later shocked to see even her chicken and goats reject them.
Efforts to get comments from Eastern provincial commissioner Claire Omolo and his regional deputy Joseph Otieno over the matter were fruitless as their mobile phones went answered.