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05/02/2014

Public-private dialogue on food safety begins in Georgia

Food safety proved a hot topic in Georgia as over 100 professionals attended a roundtable forum in Tbilisi to discuss national food safety legislation and its implementation on 23 January 2014. Representatives of private sector, government, international organizations, farmers and food production companies gathered at an FAO-EBRD event to discuss the current food safety situation in Georgia as the country begins the approximation of its legislation and regulations to European Union (EU) law.

In 2013, only 1.3 percent of registered Georgian food business operators were inspected by the food safety authorities. These statistics highlight the risks for domestic consumers and the preclusion of significant food exports. One solution is the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) between Georgia and the EU, which was signed at the end of 2013 and is expected to be ratified in 2014. This agreement, in combination with the new Code of Food Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection that goes into effect on 1 May 2014, will create a new regulatory framework for food safety, which will in turn protect consumers. These changes will also help local producers acquire a larger share in the domestic food market and, eventually, improve their access to foreign markets.

The event was opened by the Deputy Minister of Agriculture David Natroshvili, who gave welcoming remarks and represented the Ministry during the roundtable session, and included EBRD’s Director for Caucasus, Moldova and Belarus, Bruno Balvanera, and FAO’s Director of the Rural Infrastructure and Agro-Industries Division, Eugenia Serova. One of the key concerns to arise during the roundtable was the ability of small- and medium-scale farmers and food processors to meet new food safety regulations. In Georgia, the majority of production comes from smaller farmers and food companies who may face difficulties complying with principles of HACCP, an internationally-recognized food safety management system, and meeting stringent technology and safety requirements.

The former Serbian Minister of Agriculture Goran Zivkov spoke from his country’s experience when he suggested that Georgia’s legislation could provide special provisions for smaller producers of traditional products who cannot afford the same certifications and technology upgrades of larger companies.  Ms Serova commented that “the consideration of smaller producers in this legislation is very important and is in line with FAO’s strategic objective to promote efficient and inclusive food chains. It is critical to foster food safety, but it is also imperative not to exclude the small producers that feed the country.”

According to national statistics, the incidence of food-borne diseases increased almost 13 times in Georgia since 2004. Eleonora Dupouy, Food Safety and Consumer Protection Officer in FAO’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, explained that one reason is that these illnesses are being monitored more closely and are better reported; but the low levels of official control and knowledge of food safety standards by food business operators are certainly the driving factors behind this problem. She underlined that “food safety can be improved only by a holistic approach to the entire food chain from primary production to consumption. This means addressing legislation, policies and institutional responsibilities, inspection, laboratories, information, and training. With proper information, training and enforcement, foodborne diseases should dramatically reduce once the new standards are implemented.”

While the rules are clear for domestic food production, control of imported products is less stringent than the new regulations, which was a concern raised again and again by representatives of domestic food companies. In addition, Georgia does not have a modern food safety monitoring system, which many countries use to monitor and communicate progress based on specific indicators. Dmitry Prikhodko, Economist in the FAO Investment Centre, emphasized that “there is a need for the government to create a clear and transparent food safety monitoring system to serve as a basis for developing future policies and decisions affecting food safety. Such a system can serve as a basis for industry as a whole to show customers how the situation is improving.”

These will be the essential issues to address in the proposed public-private policy dialogue platform on food safety in Georgia. The EU has provided and will continue to provide assistance in the area of food safety. FAO and EBRD will complement these efforts by providing an institutional platform for public and private sectors to discuss food safety issues, drawing upon their significant experience facilitating such platforms, notably in the Ukrainian grain and dairy sectors. Indeed, the President of the Ukraine Dairy Producers’ Association attended the roundtable in order to discuss his experiences of public-private dialogue in the dairy sector and convey best practices.

After the event, Victoria Zinchuk, Head of Agribusiness, SMEs and Technical Cooperation of the EBRD, remarked, “The participation of the Deputy Minister of Agriculture has been of utmost importance. We have already had valuable feedback from the private sector, which has highlighted to us the importance of this type of forum. They have been very pleased that this type of private-public policy dialogue has taken place in Georgia.” The active participation of the Ministry of Agriculture and food business operators in the roundtable is a positive sign for future dialogue and improved food safety practices that are inclusive and effective.

To see a video about the event, please click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4n1_-ZjLEY

For the original press release, please click here: http://www.fao.org/archive/from-the-field/detail/en/c/212778/