In 2018, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was angry when the Kenyan government in Africa banned importing “made in China” fish because they found it to have too many toxins. Beijing considered Kenya’s action a “trade war.” However, this ban lasted only two years. Finally, in 2020, Kenya was forced to open up the fish market for China to dominate, despite the harmful effects on people’s health. And the tragedy started from here.
In 2018, a laboratory at the University of Nairobi found that fish from China sold in Kenya contained traces of heavy metals threatening human health. The local media also reported that samples of fish bought from a wholesale trader at Nairobi’s Gikomba market had trace amounts of lead, mercury, arsenic, and copper.
The discoveries have raised public concerns about the quality of fish imported from China and other countries into African countries as production increases, displacing the domestic seafood industry.
China has become the leading fish exporter to many African countries, including Kenya, Ghana, and Tanzania. In 2017, China’s exports accounted for 11.6% of the market (or $2.7 billion), followed by the U.S. with 9.5% and Russia with 8.7%. The fish trade between China and Africa has increased rapidly compared to other commodities in the past ten years.
Deception: Chinese goods labeled as local-origin
China is, in fact, the world’s leading exporter of frozen fish. Moreover, investing in foreign currency-hungry African countries enables China to dictate “terms” and manipulate African countries’ markets in many ways.
Over the past few years, China has flooded the Kenyan fish market with large amounts of tilapia and other farmed fish. Consequently, the fish farming industry of indigenous people suffers due to being unable to compete with low-price imported goods.
China’s “trick” of deception—turning products “branded” made in China into local-origin goods, damaging the already sluggish economies in African countries,
The contaminated fish case in Kenya also used the same “labeling” trick showing Chinese-origin fish stocks originated from Kenya’s Lake Victoria. As a result, local consumers were deceived into thinking that these fish products are sourced from local aquaculture lakes.
After a long time consuming toxic “made in China” fish, Kenyans are now paying the price with the hidden impacts on health due to heavy metal poisoning.
Kenya’s Nation newspaper exposed the incident, and under pressure to take action to protect fish supply chains, the Kenyan government imposed a ban on the consumption of Chinese fish. Fish provide the primary source of protein for the region. This tough action by the Kenyan government is considered by Beijing—through its ambassador Li Xuhang—the start of a “trade war.”
However, this ban lasted only two years, and in 2020 Kenya had to give in to the CCP’s pressure as it did not want to be cut off from funding for projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. This is the “weakness” of many countries reeling from a recession due to the pandemic.
Because of the need for foreign currency, Kenya has no choice but to let Chinese fish products continue to manipulate the market. However, recent investigations show that China’s fish sources still contain many heavy metals that threaten human health.
Poisoning today, destroying future generations
To learn about “Chinese origin” fish, Kenyan investigators purchased 22 pounds of imported tilapia, which they then brought to the University of Nairobi for testing. The results showed that fish contained dangerous pesticides, such as extremely toxic phosalone, at extremely high levels: 0.07 parts per million (ppm), seven times higher than the maximum allowable limit: 0.01 ppm.
The “Chinese origin” fish was also found to contain other pesticides such as tolylfluanid at 0.022 ppm; deltamethrin (0.026 ppm), acrinathrin (0.005 ppm), and tebufenpyrad (0.001 ppm). According to the researchers, these pesticides cause health hazards such as cancer, mouth ulcers, difficulty swallowing, and abdominal pain after eating. Besides pesticides, Chinese-origin fish were also found to contain excessive heavy metals.
According to the article, Chinese tilapia contains 42.7 ppm of lead, which is 427 times higher than the allowable limit of 0.1 ppm set by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. Too much lead can impair mental health, damage the nervous system, and hinder children’s physical development. At the same time, it also causes high blood pressure, anemia, body weakness, kidney and brain damage, and reduced fertility in adults.
In addition, lead is also a carcinogen, and even causes instant death if the body absorbs too much. Similar fish samples were also found to have relatively high zinc levels, although it was still below the regulatory limit of 30 ppm.
According to medical experts, an excess of zinc can cause gastroenteritis, a common condition with symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. Iron, copper, and manganese are other metals detected in imported Chinese fish.
The CCP gradually damaged the Kenyan people’s health and “killed” the country’s fishing industry. The massive import of fish from China has dramatically impacted the Kenyan seafood industry, as fish imports surpassed $18.5 million in 2017, which has doubled yearly.
The situation has become so hopeless for Kenyan fishermen that a fishery industry official has warned that if the Kenyan government does not stop importing Chinese goods, Kenya’s seafood industry will disappear entirely in the next few decades.