Apr 15, 2009

Letter of the day: Queries about cassava study

Jamaica Gleaner - Kingston, Jamaica
Published: Tuesday | April 14, 2009

The Editor, Sir:

I would like to express my appreciation for any research that can potentially contribute to the health and well being of our citizens. In particular, our tertiary institutions are duty bound to provide information that is sound, balanced and can stand up to academic scrutiny.

However, I have some general concerns with the conclusions of cassava study as reported by The Gleaner on April 13. The article states that 'samples' taken from four parishes were found to have high levels of cyanide. How were the samples selected? Was it a random process? Were the bammies and undried cassava flour sourced from industrial facilities or directly from individual households/farms (or both)? Were the research findings subject to the peer review process typically required for publication in an academic journal?

In fairness, these questions could possibly be answered by seeing the actual report or publication. However, the article as presented, runs the risk of providing partial information that could lead to a knee-jerk reaction by the public or related government officials.

It is, indeed, important to highlight the risks associated with under-prepared cassava flour. However, overconsumption and underpreparation of a wide variety of foods also have potential health risks. For example, most Jamaicans are all aware of the dangers of eating under-prepared ackee. Others might also be aware that excessive consumption of sorrel drinks can lead to kidney and other problems due to the high oxalic acid content of the plant. Similarly, overconsumption of alcohol, sweet drinks and fatty foods also have a host of associated negative health effects.

Proper food preparation

My main point is, it would have been good if the article had also emphasised the need for proper food preparation and improved monitoring by the Bureau of Standards or some other public health agency. I would also hope that the recommendations as provided by the researchers contained no overt bias, given Northern Caribbean University's involvement in promoting the breadfruit as an alternative source of carbohydrate. Research is important, but in my opinion, 'balanced' research is even more important.

History, the Bible and life in general teach us that moderation in all things is a goal that we should all strive for. Rather than throwing out cassava as an option for the nation's struggle for food security, I would hope that the broader message from such a study would be the promotion of moderate consumption and more emphasis on proper food preparation and production.

I am etc.



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