Around 100 bags of “plastic rice” seized in Lagos have turned out to contain real but contaminated rice, authorities said Friday in Nigeria, where prices for the staple have rocketed.

Tests on the rice have shown that the product is “not plastic but … contaminated with micro-organisms above the permissible limit” and therefore unfit for human consumption, according to the National Agency for Foods and Drugs Administration and Control.

Authorities said there were still “several metric tonnes of expired and dangerous rice” in warehouses in neighbouring countries destined for Nigerian markets.

china rice
File photo: Mark Ralston.

Customs would “intensify their patrols” to make sure the inedible staple did not make it onto Nigerian plates.

Officials have not said where the impounded consignment of 102 50-kilogramme (110-pound) bags of contaminated rice came from nor how it entered Nigeria, where rice prices have doubled over the year.

After the haul in Lagos, customs agents believed the bags were smuggled in from China, since Nigeria has banned rice imports to encourage domestic production, according to a customs agent who asked not be named.

The oil-exporting west African giant plunged into recession in the second quarter of 2016 and is affected by a severe shortage of foreign currency, mainly due to falling oil prices.

In October, President Muhammadu Buhari urged Nigerians to buy home-grown rice to boost agriculture and cut imports of rice and flour, which cost more than 1,000 billion naira (three billion euros, US$3.2 billion) each year.

In the wake of the “plastic rice” scandal, the governor of Lagos presented the first bags of “Lake Rice”, grown in Lagos and surrounding areas and sold at a reduced price.

The price for a 50-gramme bag of rice has doubled recently and inflation in the country hit 18.5 percent in November, its 13th consecutive monthly rise, pushed up mainly by rising food costs.

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