Kebs says copper found in samples of sugar

Charles Ongwae
Former Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) managing director Charles Ongwae. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) on Thursday confirmed that the controversial consignment of imported sugar already released into the market is contaminated with copper.

Kebs managing director Charles Ongwae told Parliament that tests on impounded sugar samples had found high levels of copper, but did not find any traces of mercury as claimed by Interior secretary Fred Matian’gi.

Consumption of high levels of copper can lead to kidney failure, liver damage and death.

Symptoms of copper overdose include nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, fever, stomach pain, low blood pressure, anaemia, and heart problems.

“During our testing of the sugar, we identified certain sugars that are not compliant with our standards and have recommended a recall of all non-complying sugar from the market,” Mr Ongwae told the National Assembly’s committee on Trade, Industry and Co-operatives.


The Kebs boss said subsequent tests for heavy metals in the contraband sugar was done after a public outcry, which showed certain imports had copper levels that are way above what is standard.

“There are certain limits set for copper in sugar. The limit is two milligrams per one kilo of sugar. The ones we sampled had 20.7 mg per kilogramme of sugar,” he told the committee. Mr Ongwae tabled documents showing that white sugar brand, whose name was given as Kabras Premium, failed to meet the standard specification in copper, colour, polarization, total viable count as well as yeast and moulds.

Another consignment of white sugar labelled as UGT African sugar, and which was packaged in 1Kg bags failed to meet standard specification in copper, colour, conductivity/Ash content, invert sugar content, marking and polarization.

The third consignment of brown sugar that was packaged in blue bags failed to meet the standard specification on moisture content, polarization, total viable count and yeast and moulds.

“Generally, the bags were externally soiled indicative of poor handling and unclean storage,” Mr Ongwae said, adding that copper and other heavy metals may have contaminated the sugar during repackaging.

Mr Ongwae was hard-pressed to explain how the sugar that was impounded in Eastleigh and marked not fit for human consumption found its way into the country.

“With regards to the sugar from Eastleigh, it had bags specifically marked as not fit for human consumption. That sugar did not pass Kebs and was not inspected by any of our agents or officers. We don’t know how it got into country,” Mr Ongwae said.

He said the Eastleigh consignment that was being repackaged in Kabras Sugar bags had failed in copper and alot of other Kebs parameters.“That is the sugar that failed in copper and alot of parameters.

That was an illegal activity and we are working with the DCI to get the suspects to tell us where the sugar has gone so that we can pull it out of the market before they are charged in court,” Mr Ongwae said.

MP Maoka Maore tabled documents showing Kebs had cleared imported fertilisers from Morocco despite finding that the mercury level was 0.33 against allowable maximum of 0.1 per cent.

“Kebs documents on fertiliser tests show it released fertiliser of level 0.33, when the allowable maximum is 0.1. The total Nitrogen content was 16.7 per cent when the allowable maximum is 1 per cent.

Documents show that it was 18.4 per cent when it left Morocco,” Mr Maore said. Mr Ongwae said he could only respond to the matter once he investigates and authenticate documents presented to the committee. Mr Ongwae distanced Kebs from results of the tests that Dr Matiangi made public showing that impounded sugar had high levels of mercury, copper and lead.

“They (Matiangi) results didn’t come from Kebs, they must have been tested elsewhere and I don’t know. I wouldn’t know if we tested from the same sample of results that the CS for Interior announced. That I wouldn’t know,” he said.

Mr Ongwae told MPs that he could confirm that the sugar in question was tested in countries of origin and was in compliance with Kebs Kenya standards.

“The majority of samples had been picked from areas that were raided by the multi-agency team and some at the directorate of criminal investigations (DCI). We haven’t picked from supermarkets for testing but samples are being taken. I have instructed the regional manager Mombasa to go to all retail outlets for sampling,” he said in response to questions raised by MPs. The MPs accused Kebs of failing to detect the contraband sugar at the points of entry despite being present at all border points.

“Kebs is not proactive. This is life and death. This is not a football game, although people also die in football. This is serious matter concerning people’s lives,” Rongai MP Raymond Moi said.

MPs from western Kenya led by Ayub Savula demanded the sacking of industrialisation CS Adan Mohammed for allowing Sugar imports.