PACIFIC ISLANDS: QUALITY AND SAFETY IN AGRICULTURAL PRODUCE BENEFIT EXPORTS AND PROTECT CONSUMERS
Pesticides and chemicals compromise food security
The intensification of agriculture practices in the Pacific Islands has been accompanied in some cases by unregulated use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. As a result, an increased number of agricultural shipments from the region was rejected by importing countries due to the presence of poisonous or deleterious substances. Moreover, the poor quality and safety of food products, whether produced locally or imported, was becoming a potential threat to consumers' health.
Ensuring safety and quality
A TCP project with a budget of US$351 000 was launched in 2002 to enhance food safety and quality aspects of Pacific agricultural and fishery produce, both for local consumption and export. Staff from the regional food control laboratory of the Institute of Applied Sciences (IAS) within the University of the South Pacific, as well as national technicians, were trained in various aspects of food analysis and laboratory facilities were upgraded. The IAS Laboratory quality systems and methodology documentation were reviewed and corrective action to enhance laboratory performance implemented. These improvements led to the IAS laboratory becoming the first internationally accredited laboratory of its type in the region. In addition, Pacific Island Food Composition Tables were published using regionally generated data.
The catalytic effect
Since the completion of the project in 2004, the IAS regional food control laboratory has been used by many development agencies and research initiatives concerned with food security and safety in the region. For example, the safety of improved taro crop production systems was assessed; dietary guidelines for consumption of certain large predatory fish species were established; a comprehensive dietary survey was conducted in Fiji and micronutrient-rich cultivars of local atoll food crops were identified and are being promoted in Micronesia to address endemic vitamin deficiencies.
The IAS took full ownership of the project and continues to work with Pacific countries to develop appropriate national food laboratories, while functioning as a regional reference center. The University facilities are also used to teach students from regional member countries. The international accreditation achieved by the IAS regional food laboratory is expected to facilitate the acceptance of analytical results between trading countries.
A USP laboratory technician carrying out an analysis in support of food safety