Govt calls for private sector invest-ments to manage food safety issues

The European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar revealed this month that 27 percent of the fish sold by 84 fish vendors in Yangon contained the Vibrio bacteria, which can cause food poisoning in adults who eat undercooked seafood. The government wants to work with the private sector to raise food safety standards in the region and beyond. Aung Khant/The Myanmar Times

The private sector has an important role to play in ensuring food safety and growth in the domestic agriculture, livestock and fisheries sectors, U Tin Win, assistant director at the Plant Protection Division under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, told The Myanmar Times.

“There is a role for the private sector in encouraging the supply and usage of safe quantities of inputs pesticides and veterinary drugs, raising awareness and providing education and training for farmers and enterprises along the food supply chain,” he said.

U Tin Win was speaking after the European Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar (EuroCham) revealed this month that 27 percent of the fish sold by 84 fish vendors in Yangon contained the Vibrio bacteria which can cause food poisoning in adults as a result of eating undercooked seafood.

Another study by the regional government in Yangon showed that 93.5pc of red bean cakes sold in the markets were laced with formalin. Meanwhile, research executed in the Inle Lake region at the beginning of this year also revealed that 75pc of the vegetable samples obtained from markets and villages contained pesticide residue.

In fact, among the 113 countries listed on the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2017 Global Food Security, Myanmar ranked 71 for quality and safety. This is lower than countries as Thailand, Laos and India, according to the World Health Organisation.

Separately, the World Bank has also stated that of the $40 billion in losses made from wastage as a result of food safety issues, Myanmar contributes around $500 million to $700 million a year, which is up to 18pc of the total losses made.

As such, the EuroCham concluded that investments in food safety management systems is a prerequisite for the growth of agribusiness, which accounts for 38pc of Myanmar’s GDP and 23pc of the country’s exports.

Unlocking the benefits of having this system “will ultimately benefit consumers with safer food and better health, help boost the agricultural sector and tourism, increase exports, create jobs and raise economic growth,” it said.

A study revealed that 75pc of the vegetable samples obtained from markets and villages contained pesticide residue. Aung Khant/The Myanmar Times

Building awareness

What can be done to develop a food safety management system? And, how can the private sector contribute?

One way is by working with the government to hold educational and awareness campaigns. But Dr Khin Saw Hla, a former director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said that previous attempts to hold awareness and training campaigns had failed. “We had to stop the classes because nobody attended,” she said.

To solve this, U Sein Thaung Oo, vice chair of Myanmar Food Processor and Exporter Association, said the government should set regulations making it a prerequisite for businesses to attend such classes. “Food businesses must have attended training on the importance of food safety before the government issues the relevant business licenses and permits,” he said.

The government can also set regulations under which those found by the FDA to be in breach of the basic safety standards should pay penalties or have their licenses revoked.

Currently, food safety regulations fall under the 1997 Myanmar National Food Law, which was last amended in 2013. The Ministry of Health and Sports is the process of drafting a new food law so that food safety processes are regulated more effectively, said Dr Khin Saw Hla.

A proper system to guarantee the safety of food such as poultry is needed. Aung Khant/The Myanmar Times

FDA endorsement

Dr Min Wan, deputy director at the FDA, explained that while it provides certifications endorsing food companies of meeting the required safety standards, many companies sidestep this procedure. “The FDA does not have the mandate to endorse the whole food sector. For example, the red bean cakes and fish in the EuroCham report were not endorsed by the FDA.

He added that the FDA should collaborate with the related government ministries and departments including the Agriculture, Livestock Breeding and Veterinary Department, Department of Fisheries, Department of Consumers Affairs, Municipal Health Department, Customs Department, Disease Control Unit and the Department of Public Health to ensure a system of endorsement and licensing.

Already, the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation has released guidelines on good agriculture and livestock practices. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organisation has also stressed the urgency to provide technical training to the staff of management agencies at various ministries, covering specific areas such as food safety, sanitation, good hygiene practice and good manufacturing practice.

“Food safety is very important for local consumption and exports. If our food safety system is weak, Myanmar will it difficult to export food items such as agri-produce and fish,” U Sein Thaung Oo, said.

Source: Mmtimes