Thursday, 6 December 2012

Trust in ASEAN food safety has a long way to go

Seah Seng Choon, executive director of CI member Consumer Association of Singapore, reflects on the interconnectedness of food safety in the global marketplace.


We are living in a world where we have to rely on other countries as well as our own to ensure that wholesome foods are produced and supplied. Because of this interconnectedness, it is of utmost importance that all countries play their part in keeping a good standard of practice in food production.

Recently, I attended a workshop titled Strategies for Improved Food Safety in Southeast Asia in Bangkok organised by Consumers International (CI), Thailand’s National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standard (ACFS), and the German International Cooperation (GIZ).

The workshop focused on food production in ASEAN countries and asked the question: “Can we trust one another to export wholesome food that meets international standards of production?”

The answer was a resounding “no”.

The issues raised at the conference included contamination, use of substandard ingredients such as gutter oil, food shortages, genetically modified food, nutrition, import and export control and food standards, among others.

Improvements are being made, according to the workshop participants. Some examples of best practice shared at the workshop included tests on cooking oil being carried out in Malaysia; the re-location of street food to facilities with adequate hygiene, sanitation, clean water and lighting in Singapore; and the removal of Bisphenol A an industrial chemical, from children’s milk bottles in Malaysia.

We are not a long way off from having an open market in the ASEAN region. Hence it is a good idea to keep the discussion on such issues alive so that progress can be made to help each one of us to understand the issues and perhaps work on solutions.

I congratulate CI’s Office for Asia Pacific and the Middle East for taking the initiative to kick start this discussion on food safety issues. But, we should not stop at this workshop.

We should continue to get the relevant parties in the region involved in food safety to continue to meet and explore areas where regional and international collaboration are feasible. 

We must continue to work on improving standards and achieving some degree of trust between countries in the region as we move closer to 2015 when the ASEAN Economic Community will be established.

3 comments:

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  2. Too often, occupational accidents are considered a price of progress in developing countries. but they also occur in advanced nations. Whether we challenge nature at thirteen thousand feet underground in a South African gold mine or thirty-nine thousand feet below sea level exploring for oil in the Gulf of Mexico or at three hundred thousand kilometers in space en route to the moon—accidents can and will happen despite the best safety regulations. Human beings make mistakes, and sometimes equipment fails. Mothers often protest that they were only distracted for an instant when their child disappeared. “Pilot error” is still the leading cause of airplane crashes!

    Industrial, mining and, consumer safety should never be compromised for profits; neither should margins of safety where food and pharmaceutical products are concerned. Aircraft, space vehicle, and automobile manufacturing as well as the production of power tools and equipment are further examples of industrial safety challenges—as are consumer products, from toasters, to contact lenses, to cribs—especially imported cribs. Then there are procedural and processing standards that require constant upgrading in chemical plants and hospitals as technology advances. There are safety concerns regarding the very frontiers of science. These include the safety of our astronauts in space exploration, the safety of people downrange of sites from which military and civilian rockets are launched, and the safety of offshore and land-based drilling for oil and gas, to name but a few.

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  3. The human body is 61-70 percent water. Its depletion needs to be replenished almost daily. Water is the staff of life. Without adequate water, we cannot grow sufficient food. Further, it is typically true that two bushels of arable soil are “consumed” to produce one bushel of wheat. That means: the soil’s fertility is depleted. In effect, we will run out of arable lands to feed a burgeoning population. Greater and greater quantities of fertilizer, water, and minerals will have to be added just to maintain current levels of agricultural production. It appears inevitable that rolling food shortages will occur—at least until we are better able to control rainfall and divert it to places most in need. Famines and health crises will occur where governments fail to develop and regulate the intelligent use of water. Conflicts, some violent, are inevitable over scarce water resources shared by neighboring nation states.

    The “Water Wars” will not subside unless and until a new, cheap source of electricity is developed that will enable desalination of ocean water and distribution of the precious fluid to areas where it is most needed. That may be a decade or more in the future. Desalination by reverse osmosis through special filters that are still being improved may bridge part of the gap. Very large electric (or LNG powered?) pumps and pipelines will be needed to move ocean water through desalination plants and thence over coastal mountains to inland farmlands.

    One of the major problems with water resources is that while we know which places have a chronic lack, still there are droughts and floods where we least expect them. A drought in Australia cannot succumb to a monsoon in Bangladesh—not yet—not until we learn how to control the earth’s cloud cover and high- and low-pressure wind currents. Weather patterns appear increasingly random so it is only natural that countries will want to preserve their own water and not share it with neighbors—or others downstream. The World Court will undoubtedly have to adjudicate many such claims.

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