Fostering Partnerships to Drive Food Safety in Asia

With consumer concerns over food safety issues growing across Asia’s emerging economies, the public and private sectors are stepping up collaboration efforts and working in partnership, in order to manage underlying threats and strengthen risk communication to ensure that Asian consumers have access to safe food.

A half-day dialogue session, organised by the Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) in collaboration with Food Industry Asia (FIA) took place in Singapore on 9 December. Senior leaders from governments; intergovernmental organisations such as The World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO); and FIA member companies spoke on how as the world’s food economy expands and international supply chains grow more complex, many countries in Asia are facing critical deficiencies in food safety capacity. The participants spoke of the challenges and opportunities in ensuring food safety in Asia, the importance of recognising shared responsibility among all stakeholders, and the need to foster partnership.

In his keynote address, Mr Tran Kim Long, Director General, International Cooperation Department (ICD), Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), Vietnam, spoke of the need for stronger coordinated actions to address food safety issues in the country.

Mr Long said that in the past two decades, while Vietnam has enjoyed considerable economic and social progress, food safety issues have been gaining the attention of the public, media and policymakers. There is a lack of consumer trust, he said, in part due to the lack of understanding of the difference between food safety hazards and food safety risks.

Several speakers and panellists from the session spoke with FIA about the challenges and opportunities in building food safety capacity building in Asia.

Mr Pawan Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer of the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), said that public-private partnerships are at the heart of driving food safety globally. He highlighted the importance of regulators and private sector businesses working together, and said that ensuring safe and nutritious food for 1.3 billion people in India requires shared responsibility.

Mr Paul Mayers, Vice President of the Policy and Programs Branch (PPB), Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), said that it is the food culture and commitment of businesses are that ultimately deliver desired public health outcomes. He added that there needs to be shared confidence between businesses and regulators in order to strengthen capacity to drive these results.

Dr Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Asia & the Pacific, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), highlighted the work and priorities of the FAO in driving food safety and supporting capacity-building in the region. She said that within the framework of public-private partnerships, a risk-based approach to inspection systems is necessary.

Mr Nathan Belete, The World Bank’s Practice Manager in Agriculture Global Practice for East Asia & the Pacific, and chair of the GFSP Governing Council, shared details on the GFSP’s priorities for the Asia region in 2017, particularly for key initiatives in countries like India, China and Vietnam. He said that the GFSP, through its range of capacity-building and training programmes conducted in partnership with the public and private sectors, supports in the areas of policy issues, technical assistance and concrete investments.

Mr Belete gave the example of a GFSP pilot programme that trains and supports lab technicians at Waters India, adding that future plans include these technicians training their counterparts, and for the Partnership scale up these efforts more broadly.

The GFSP as a collective partnership, he said, seeks to leverage on successful models that the industry is already using in the area of food safety capacity-building, and not duplicating efforts. This includes identifying successful programmes and owners, then matching the demands of the Partnership's clients at regional and global levels. 

Mr Nathan Belete, The World Bank’s Practice Manager in Agriculture Global Practice for East Asia & the Pacific, and chair of the GFSP Governing Council, addresses participants as he opens the dialogue session on 9 December.

Since the creation of the GFSP in 2012, FIA has been an active player – and is now a partner – within the Partnership, which is convened by The World Bank. The GFSP seeks to improve capacity-building and training programmes for food safety practitioners in both the public and private sectors, and FIA has worked to ensure that the initiative is well-informed and responsive to the needs of the food and beverage (F&B) industry in the region.

FIA members representing the F&B industry in Asia and beyond have recognised that the best way to drive food safety effectively, and on a global scale, is through multi-sectoral partnerships in which knowledge can be cascaded freely to those most in need.