A Celebration of Nationhood and Progress Made in the Food Industry

August was a busy and exciting month of celebrations in Southeast Asia, as Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia celebrated their national and independence days. Renowned for their delectable national cuisines, and with each country’s national dishes playing a central role in their celebrations, we look at the challenges faced by these countries and the steps FIA, alongside government bodies and companies are taking to provide tangible solutions for a healthy and prosperous Asia.

Singapore (9 August)

Singapore celebrated its 53rd National Day on the 9th of August with an official parade at the Marina Bay floating platform alongside a host of events and festivities across the country. During Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally speech, he announced that Singapore will nominate its hawker culture for a UNESCO listing. An iconic and unique part of Singaporean culture, hawker centres house a variety of local dishes and form a fundamental part of the country’s identity. However, the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health estimates that by 2050, the country may be home to as many as one million diabetics, and that poses a problem for hawker centres across the country, which often come under fire for their unhealthy food offerings.

To tackle health challenges such as diabetes, Singapore has launched a number of programmes and initiatives in a bid to change perceptions and behaviour in health and nutrition. According to a recent ‘Healthier Product Reformulation in Singapore’ report released by FIA and IGD, 77% of Singapore consumers surveyed said they were happy if product recipes changed to make them healthier, provided taste is not compromised. This data has resulted in an influx of Singaporean companies reformulating their products to provide healthier alternatives. Last month, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) also reported that several companies in Singapore have applied for the Healthier Development Ingredient Scheme, which supports manufacturers in developing and promoting healthier ingredients. Additionally, by 2019, the HPB aims to have 40% of Singapore’s total 13,000 hawker centre and coffee shop food stalls offer at least one healthy food option - double the current proportion available.

Indonesia (17 August)

Indonesia celebrated its 73rd Independence Day on the 17th of August, with an official ceremony at the Merdeka Palace along with colourful parades and festivities featuring plentiful variations of popular Indonesian snack, Kerupuk. This Southeast Asian country may have a big appetite, but Indonesia faces a nutritional burden at both ends of the spectrum, with high numbers of acute and chronic malnutrition – at 37% and 12% respectively, alongside growing rates of obesity.

During the 4th Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN) last month, Diandra Pratami from the World Food Programme (WFP) shared that more than a third of school-aged children in Indonesia do not consume enough nutritious food for healthy growth and development. Braced with these statistics, the government and WFP have collaborated on a national school meal programme providing children with a nutritious breakfast three times a week.

Indonesia is also the second largest contributor to ocean plastic debris after China and FIA recently completed an industry first research identifying a need for an integrated approach to tackle the waste issue and identified key levers that could see the greatest impact for large-scale plastic waste reduction, such as accelerating packaging innovations, increasing post-consumption collection, and introducing material recovery facilities. FIA continues to engage key stakeholders within the country to explore platforms for collaboration and to develop industry-government solutions.

Malaysia (31st August)

Malaysia celebrated its Independence Day, also known as Hari Merdeka, on the 31st of August. This year’s celebration saw the National Day parade being held in the administrative capital of Putrajaya.

Food, often considered the nation’s favourite pastime, has led to several health challenges in Malaysia –one of which is obesity. In fact, Malaysia is home to the highest rates of obesity in the Southeast Asian region, and together with Indonesia, is experiencing the highest overall costs of obesity as a percentage of healthcare spending. The total (direct and indirect) costs of obesity are highest in Malaysia, claiming an estimated 10% - 19% of the country’s healthcare spend.

Dr Chong Chee Kheong, Director of the Disease Control Division at the Ministry of Health Malaysia, has highlighted the importance of public-private partnerships in tackling the country’s public health challenges. Malaysia’s health ministry has already successfully engaged with local schools and the ‘Persatuan Ibu Bapa dan Guru’ (Parent-Teacher Association) to encourage parents to prepare healthy, home-cooked meals for their children.

It’s not just non-communicable diseases that pose a challenge in Malaysia but also nutrition labelling matters. In 2005, Malaysia made nutrient declaration mandatory for energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat for foods that are commonly consumed such as bread and milk products, canned meat and condiments. In addition, the amount of total sugars needs to be declared for ready to drink beverages. However, the lack of harmonisation in nutrition labelling among ASEAN states is one of the most significant barriers for food trade in the region, as identified by the 2018 study commissioned by ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) with the support of FIA.

FIA continues to work with national industry association partners and regulators to achieve a consensus in the region to harmonise nutrition labelling to advance this goal of regional harmonisation.

Significant progress made in the region

Through industry collaboration and government engagement, FIA has been able to accelerate progress in the sectors of nutrition, reformulation and harmonisation in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. Through this joint effort, FIA has made significant steps in creating a vibrant food & beverage industry and in turn a healthy and prosperous Asia through its partnerships with businesses and governments. As the industry works towards greater regional integration within the Southeast Asian region, collaboration between governments and the private sector will continue to play a critical role in driving positive change.

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