Food Safety, Trade and Regional Partnerships – Key Aspects of Food Security

Food security is a pressing global concern, where 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life. According to the World Food Programme, the vast majority of the world's hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished.

Asia is home to some countries that are highly affluent. At the same time, it is also the continent with the most hungry people—two-thirds of the total number. The double burden of malnutrition is a huge concern, and it has emerged as a threat to health and healthcare systems in the region.

In an era of decreasing resources, changing climates and ballooning populations, it is not only important to provide enough food. More importantly, food has to be safe and nutritious. Significant achievements have been made in reducing poverty and increasing food and nutrition security. However, the problem is still persistent and much needs to be done.

On 21-22 June 2016, Food Industry Asia (FIA) participated in the Expert Roundtable on Food Security, held in Manila, Philippines. With Murdoch University as host, the roundtable brought together thought leaders from industry, government, academia and civil society. The roundtable emphasised the importance of having all stakeholders engaged in policy development, and articulated the need for innovation and toolsets in communication to provide policy-makers with sound evidence upon which policy can be formulated. Outputs from the roundtable were then delivered at the Food Security Forum Partnership Dialogue, in which the Asian Development Bank was host, the following day.

“Food and nutrition security, and trade and regional partnerships, are complex and intertwined areas. Asia has seen a diversity of approaches to these areas and is well-poised to manage this growing interconnectedness,” said Professor David Morrison, Deputy Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at Murdoch University.

Food safety is an important aspect of food security and its importance cannot be understated, given the increasing complexity in supply chains and increased food trade across borders. FIA recognises that the only way to tackle food safety effectively on a global scale is through multi-sectoral partnerships. Together, through non-competitive collaborations and joint efforts, the food industry, governments, international organisations and civil society are coming together to address this challenge and cultivate a global culture of food safety.

One such initiative that FIA is involved in is the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP), a multi-stakeholder platform convened by the World Bank. The GFSP is committed to cultivating and scaling up capacity-building programmes on food safety in developing countries. The GFSP aims to shape and repurpose tools and processes to reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity.

“FIA has been an active player and a key supporter of the GFSP. This partnership is facilitating a globally-coordinated and Asia-driven approach to food safety. Our focus is to scale up food safety capacity building and other programmes in China and Southeast Asia,” notes Mr Matt Kovac, Executive Director of FIA.

Meanwhile, the key role of trade is to ensure that food security exists throughout the region. Fair, transparent and harmonised policies that promote trade throughout the world are crucial as they encourage healthy competitiveness, ultimately benefitting consumers by ensuring both the availability of safe and nutritious staple foods, and the access to a wider variety of products and technologies. Furthermore, this will provide growers with access to global markets, raising incomes of people living in the rural areas where food security is most pressing.

At the roundtable, Dr Siti Noorbaiyah Abdul Malek, Head of Scientific & Regulatory Affairs at FIA, shared about the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA), a network of food and beverage national associations in Southeast Asia that are linked to the manufacturing, distribution and sale of food and beverage products. FIA has helped to develop AFBA – a dedicated, non-profit body that aims to facilitate intra- and extra-regional trade in ASEAN by supporting and accelerating the ASEAN harmonisation process for the benefit of small, medium and large enterprises, as well as their consumers in the ASEAN markets.

Dr Abdul Malek notes: “AFBA focuses on developing a collaborative approach to driving the harmonisation of standards, and it has made significant developments in building strong networks. It establishes dialogues with governments in the region to create better understanding, to share knowledge and to find ways to jointly address effectively the cross-cutting issues in the prepared food sector.”

The launch of AFBA in 2013 was a key highlight for FIA, as it marked a new standard for uniting the industry around a common goal across Southeast Asia that is focused on regulatory harmonisation.

Anchored by its support to the 1996 World Food Summit’s definition of “food security”, which states that food security exists “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life,” FIA will uphold its focus on building and sustaining credible public-private partnerships, in order to deliver on key priorities related to health and nutrition, food safety and harmonisation of standards.

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