Mr Ronnie Tay, Chief Executive Officer, National Environment Agency, Singapore,
Distinguished participants from various countries of Asia, resource persons, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you, to the Regional Workshop for Asian Countries on hygiene and safety in food retail’ being organized by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP) in collaboration with the National Environment Agency, Singapore. I would like to thank the National Environment Agency, Singapore for hosting and supporting FAO in organizing this important Regional Consultation. I am very glad to see the representatives from 22 countries from the region present here today from both National and provincial or local level, who are all equally concerned about food safety and hygiene issues in retail.
Food safety is a very important subject and has been increasingly gaining importance globally as well as in the region. Food safety, as you are aware contributes significantly to food security as unsafe and poor quality food leads to foodborne illnesses, malnutrition as well as food wastage. It also negatively influences international trade as a non-tarrif barrier.
As per WHO estimates, foodborne and waterborne diarrhoeal diseases cause around 2.2 million deaths worldwide annually of which 1.9 million are children. Media reports eleased from various countries and other sources indicate that retailed food is a significant concern in relation to foodborne illnesses. Recent concerns on food safety in retail relate to, not only the microbiological and chemical contamination due to hygeinc aspects, but also issues such as reuse of cooking oil, nutritional aspects, shelf life issues, storage, use of packing material amongst others. Food safety in this sector is therefore, of great concern as food retail is generally the final end of the food chain before the food reaches the consumer. Therefore, special care is needed to ensure its safety.
The area of food retail is particularly challenging for governments due to the large numbers of retail outlets as well as significant retail activities in the unorganized sector such as in the case of street foods and small eateries as well as sweet shops and bakeries. There are also issues relating to lack of infrastructure for cold storage, water, test facilities amongst others. Food adulteration is being widely practiced, due to factors such lack of awareness of operators on the impact of their actions, uninformed consumers as well as poor monitoring and surveillance systems. Further, lack of data in this sector in relation to foodborne illnesses, or impact on nutritional health, food wastages, etc is another major problem due to which governments are not fully clear of the areas on which they need to focus their efforts.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been focussing on food safety at the international level as well as regional level. FAO also responds to the needs of individual countries and works with them in addressing food safety concerns and supports their capacity development. Food safety has been recognised as a priority area in the FAO Regional Conference for the Asia & the Pacific and in the 31st Regional Conference held in March 2012.
FAO is currently supporting around nearly 20 projects and programmes in various countries of Asia Pacific Region on food safety covering capacity strengthening in aspects of food safety and quality policies, food legislation, laboratories, standards and Codex related activities, control and inspection procedures, public awareness and education on food safety and consumers’ health. FAO also supports in implementing preventative risk-based approach in various industry sectors and value chains right from production till consumption.
Specifically on street foods, FAO’s activities began 3 decades ago. To improve the safety of street foods and reduce the burden of food borne diseases associated with street foods, FAO has worked on:
- capacity building of the local authorities in food quality and safety control;
- research on the street food sector, in terms of socio-economic impact, legislative framework, hygienic and nutritional improvement;
- education and training to improve vendors’ knowledge about sanitation and food hygiene, and nutritional value of foods;
- information sharing and networking among local and national authorities to spread good practices and promote a common strategy; and
- awareness raising among consumers about nutrition and hygiene aspects of street foods.
Inspite of various efforts and initiatives in the region, it is observed that much more focus and support to governments is needed in the area of food retail. Infact in the last CCASIA meeting in November 2012, countries had requested for a guidance document in terms of Regional Code of Hygienic Practice for Street-Vended Foods for Asia. The proposal has been agreed to and work is yet to start. FAO had also expressed support in the area.
This 3-day Workshop, aims to share and review experiences on retail sector in the Region and to identify and advocate best practices from countries across the Region. Some experiences and success stories from countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Nepal on street foods and organized retail will also be shared which, I hope would provide insights to participants to support them in implementing such programmes in their countries.
This workshop is expected to further help in identifying priorities and actions, and also developing a regional guidance document for assisting countries to manage food safety across the retail sector both for streetfood and organized retail. The regional guidance is expected to cover aspects including legislations, norms, registration/ certification practices, enforcement and surveillance mechanisms as well as education and trainings.
A report of the Workshop including guidance documents, case studies and priority areas will be published as a technical document. One of the most important outcomes expected from this workshop is the possible creation of a Street food Asian Network where all participating countries would join to create a network , work together in a team and pursue efforts towards higher standards of food hygiene and safety in retail.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In closing, I should like to take this opportunity to assure you of FAO’s commitment to capacity building for hygiene and safety in food retail.
It is indeed a pleasure for FAO to be able to organise this important Regional Workshop here in Singapore. I would like to thank the National Environment Agency, Singapore for collaborating with FAO and coordinating all the logistic arrangements, which indeed is a very difficult task, is well organized as witnessed this morning. I would also like to thank all the participants present today for sparing their time as well as providing their inputs and sharing their experiences to support this important Meeting.
Finally, I wish you a successful Regional Workshop and look forward to the positive outcome of your deliberations in this crucial field of hygiene and safety in food retail.