Fact-Check: Do Vendors Apply Sniper Insecticide on Smoked Fish?

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Food and health investigators found used sniper bottles at fish processing sites (Photo Credit: Mansur Sowe, Ministry of Health)

By Louise SA Taylor (@AlsanLouise) & Alieu Ceesay (@AlieuCeesay0707)

Claim: Fish sellers apply sniper insecticide on smoked fish as a preservative.

Source: A viral audio shared on social media

Verdict: True

On June 5, 2022, an audio of an anonymous woman went viral on social and was quickly picked up by local media outlets. The audio, first shared on WhatsApp and marked as “forwarded many times”, also found its way on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms used by Gambians.

Sniper is an insecticide known to be poisonous and can cause a wide range of health complications in humans.

It contains a chemical called dichlorvos, also known as DDVP, and is primarily manufactured for outdoor agricultural purposes.

Some of the health risks associated with this poisonous chemical, which has been listed by health experts and the US Environment Protection Agency as “very dangerous to human health”, includes the following:

  • Heavy sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, Drowsiness, extreme tiredness, and headache can happen if you come in contact with this
  • Exposure to very highconcentrations [of Sniper] can even result in convulsions and coma.
  • Children, especially, can get sick from DDVP

Fact-check

When the unknown woman made the audio revelations on the use of sniper as a preservative for smoked fish in The Gambia, it sparked widespread ‘rumours’, but also anger and calls for the authorities to investigate.

In the audio, the woman explained that she saw a smoked-fish vendor who had droplets of the Sniper insecticide into a container of water and dips into it and sprinkled the substance on her leftover (unsold) smoked fish – to preserve it for the next market day.

This is harmful and has health implication, “this is why people are falling sick and dying just like that”, the voice in the audio claimed to have told the vendor sprinkling the sniper chemical on her smoked fish.

ansur-Sowe-in-the-field-investigating-sniper-claims
The safety of [our] food is compromised [and] public health is at risk, writes Mansur in a Facebook post showng him investigating the sniper claim at fish processing sites.
Investigation

On June 6, the Food Safety and Quality Authority, FSQA, announced that it was launching a swift investigation into claims that the insecticide was being used to preserve smoked fish.

“The gravity of this report is something that needs urgent verification. It is a serious rumour and that is why we are out to allay the fears of the public and to assure them that we are going to investigate and anyone found wanting will face the consequences,” FSQA director general, Momodou Bah, told The Standard Newspaper in an interview.

By June 9, the FSQA, the Directorate of Public Health at the Ministry of Health, the National Environment Agency (NEA), the Department of Fisheries, and Pesticide Experts jointly conducted inspections at fish-landing sites to investigate conditions under which smoked fishes are prepared and preserved.

Samples were collected and “preliminary findings were deplorable” at the Brufut and Tanji fish processing sites as used cans of sniper and other chemicals were visible at these sites, according to Mansur Sowe, a programme officer at the Ministry of Health who was part of the inspection team.

Samples were collected and sent to the Ceres Locutox Laboratory in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, for investigation and results were expected on 10th June. However, it took more than a month.

Confirmation

Nonetheless, the test results came out positive. On June 15, 2022, the FSQA Director General, Momodou Bah, told journalists that “The result of the analysis indicate the presence of sniper (dichlorvos) [in smoked fish].”

Four other insecticide products (permethrin, abamectin, cypermethrin, and bifenthrin) were also found to be used in 11 of 57 fish samples collected from seven fish landing sites and nine markets within the Greater Banjul area.

The results further indicated high residual concentration of dichlorvos in the samples collected from Bakoteh fish market with a concentration of 9.18 mg/kg, according to food safety officials.

Warning

Authorities have since warned all fish processors, distributors and vendors to stop using pesticides on fish and other food products. Anyone found engaging in such practice would be in breach of the law and therefore shall face the consequences, they said.

The FSQA is to embark on risk communication exercises to create awareness on safe chemical pesticides usage to ensure good hygienic practices in food processing, safeguard public health, and preserve environmental health.

Verdict: The claim that fish sellers apply sniper insecticide on smoked fish as a preservative is TRUE.

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