Integrated Regional Information Networks | February 11, 2008
The cooking oil used by most Malians has been found to contain a toxic substance that can cause serious health problems in both men and women.
Most of the cooking oil used in Mali is derived from cotton plants. These plants naturally produce a chemical called gossypol that protects against insect damage. In order for cottonseed oil to be safe for human consumption, the gossypol must be removed during the refining process.
However, a recent government survey concluded that most oil producers do not have the equipment needed to remove gossypol. As a result, more than 100 cottonseed oil factories have been ordered to close.
Doctors in Mali explain that gossypol can cause numerous health problems. These include permanent sterility in men and irregular menstruation and miscarriages in women. Gossypol has also been linked to heart failure and cancer.
Local cottonseed producers are the primary source of oil for most Malians. Seydou Samaké lives in the capital city of Bamako. Like most people, he frequently cooked with cottonseed oil that he now knows is toxic. He is angry that the government did not do enough to regulate cooking oil refineries and protect public health.
Consumers’ action groups are now calling on the government to do more to ensure the safety of cottonseed oil. They say oil products should be labeled so that consumers know their origin. They also want the government to enact a public education campaign to inform people of the risks of unrefined cottonseed oil.
Meanwhile, many small-scale oil producers say they cannot afford the refining equipment that removes gossypol. Seydou Traoré is an oil producer in Fana, a major cotton-producing region. He says that he will sell his factory because he cannot afford to meet the safety requirements.