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.