Common Certification on Food Safety Mooted for ASEAN

 

Malaysia announced that it will propose the establishment of a common certification process in the region to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Industry experts say this is likely to boost trade and improve access to markets.

Speaking at the launch of the ASEAN Risk Assessment Centre for Food Safety (ARAC) in Kuala Lumpur recently, Minister of Health Datuk Seri Dr Subramaniam said he would present this proposal to ASEAN health ministers in a few months. According to Minister Dr Subramaniam, the common certification was an accreditation that would provide food export opportunities to ASEAN member states, for greater access to the world market.

"With one certification, you can go to many countries in the world without any worries. Otherwise, you have to deal with every country with every standard, which might vary from one another. That would make a lot of economic sense,” he said.

Mr Peter Ter Kulve, Executive Vice President for the South East Asia and Australasia region, Unilever, said that the proposal is a step in the right direction for harmonisation of standards across ASEAN.

“There is an opportunity [for businesses] to compete more effectively across the markets, particularly in Southeast Asia, but there are many non-tariff barriers in the way. By establishing a common certification on food safety standards, harmonising rules on things like nutrition labelling, governments in ASEAN can reduce both cost and complexity while helping us to deliver a more consistent message to consumers,” Mr Ter Kulve said.

“If we can actually achieve this common certification, it will open up tremendous opportunities across the region. This is exactly the sort of thing that Food Industry Asia (FIA) has been advocating for the past three years, through the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA)."

Mr Marcos Jank, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Business Development, BRF Asia, was optimistic that the proposal for a common certification of food safety standards would be accepted by ASEAN health ministers.

He said, “While there still remains a lot more to be done to have better harmonisation of standards across ASEAN, this would certainly help facilitate greater access to markets across the region.”

Ms Eva Hurt, Head of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for the Asia Pacific region, Nestlé, welcomed the announcement of the common certification, saying that this was something the industry has been working on for a number of years.

“We fully support the establishment of an independent safety risk assessment that is aligned with international standards. ARAC’s relevance exceeds harmonisation, and that is why we welcome the setup of the centre as a key development that will positively enhance food safety, trade and innovation in ASEAN,” she said.

According to Dr Siti N. Abdul Malek, director of AFBA, the establishment of ARAC in Malaysia provides the region with much-needed work on risk assessment. She said, “AFBA is fully supportive of the work that ARAC will be doing on food safety risk assessment, which is especially important and critical during a food safety crisis.”

ARAC will be overseen by a Scientific Committee comprising of eminent experts nominated by each ASEAN Member State. The Scientific Committee will establish Scientific Panels to assess risk pertaining to food safety in ASEAN as and when needed. ARAC will primarily function to provide independent scientific opinion on food safety issues of common interest in ASEAN, including during any potential food safety crises. ARAC, through its collaborative, operational arrangements, will facilitate the pooling of independent experts and utilise all available scientific expertise across ASEAN for decision-making purposes.

The launch of ARAC was officiated by Minister Dr Subramaniam, alongside special guests Mr Lê Lương Minh, Secretary-General of ASEAN; Mr Patrick Deboyser, European Commission Directorate General for Health and Food Safety; and Mr Francisco Fontan, the Ambassador of the European Union to ASEAN. Other attendees comprised the Malaysian Ministry of Health’s Deputy Director General and Senior Director of the Food Quality and Safety Division; food safety experts and risk assessors from Malaysia and other ASEAN Member States; ASEAN Consultative Committee on Standards and Quality (ACCSQ) and Product Working Group on Prepared Foodstuff (PFPWG) delegates; senior government officials from Malaysia; and other relevant stakeholders.

The event was supported by the ASEAN Regional Integration Support from the EU (ARISE).


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