By Bram Klaeijsen, President and Regional Director for Asia Pacific of Cargill, and John in de Braekt, President, Asia Pacific of Mars Incorporated

The launch of the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) ‘A Healthy Future for All’ report raised a number of unique challenges in improving the quality of the food supply chain in Asia – a discussion that’s not only critical for the region’s food industry, but for all parts of society.

The report emphasises the complexity of securing ‘sufficient quantities of affordable food’ for Asian consumers, and with the region producing around 76 million more mouths to feed every year, this challenge will continue to increase . However it’s not just about ensuring that there’s enough food. We also need to ensure we’re providing safe, high quality products that meet the region’s diverse health and nutrition needs.

As the EIU highlights, these are challenges that no one party can manage alone. All stakeholders need to come together to make high quality food available to the region’s fast-growing populations, and help raise awareness about the importance of balanced diets and healthy lifestyles to tackle the ‘dual burden’ of over and under nutrition.

Across Asia, and around the world,there are many good examples of where the food and beverage industry is working in partnership with public stakeholders to tackle these complex issues.

The Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) is perhaps the most comprehensive ‘whole-of-society’ response to food safety. Formally launched in December 2012 at the inaugural conference in Paris, the GFSP is focused on improving the safety of food in middle-income and developing countries. It was formed on the premise that unsafe food is contributing to preventable illness and death, especially in less-developed countries. Unsafe and insecure supply chains can significantly impact global, regional, and national economies and is of major concern to governments.

The GFSP is the first coordinated global approach to food safety capacity building, bringing together the expertise of a wide range of stakeholders – from industry, government, non-governmental organisations and international bodies – to help strengthen supply chains and ensure the food we eat is as safe as it can be.

In Asia, the work has already begun. The GFSP is funding training and capacity building to upskill regulators and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) across countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and China in two important areas of supply chain management – Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and Good Aquaculture Practices (GAqP).

The HACCP is a preventive system for the control of health threatening biological, chemical, and physical food hazards during food processing and aims to help SMEs and small-hold farmers mitigate food safety risks before they occur. GAqPs are a series of processes and protocols designed to foster efficient and responsible aquaculture production. These two training initiatives will help farmers and businesses strengthen their supply chain and improve the overall awareness of food safety.

In addition to these efforts, policy makers, industry and communities are recognising that like food safety, the growing ‘dual burden’ of over and under-nutrition cannot be solved by one group alone. Nutrition is also a complex issue and requires a proactive, responsible, multi-stakeholder response.

The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) is a good example of public and private sector players working together to develop solutions to malnutrition. The initiative encourages ‘commitments to action’, with a number of these commitments focusing on improving access to safe, high quality, nutritious food.

Earlier this year, CGI members announced a new commitment to combat malnutrition in rural China by equipping village schools with kitchens. The project, run by a partnership of CGI members, aims to build 2,000 kitchens by 2015, and has committed to hiring, training, and monitoring kitchen staff; sourcing local food; and providing balanced, nutritious, daily lunches for children.

In Southeast Asia, the private sector is also working collaboratively with a wide range of groups to promote healthy lifestyles and balanced food choices.

In Malaysia, a government-industry partnership has resulted in initiatives to encourage healthier lifestyles. This includes the August launched “Responsible Advertising to Children Pledge”; the introduction of voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labeling; and the September 2011 establishment of the Health and Nutrition Working Group to strengthen the knowledge and awareness of Non-Communicable Disease risk factors.

Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines have also seen the industry come together with government and other stakeholders to implement front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labeling and nutrition education programmes based on the simple concept of guideline daily amounts or “GDAs”. All parties are working together to encourage healthier lifestyles and promote physical activity.

Companies are also individually stepping up through investments in food safety, employee wellness programmes and nutrition education and physical activity promotion. McDonald’s has recently teamed up with the Clinton Foundation’s Alliance for a Healthier Generation to help promote healthier food choices and Coca-Cola’s Step With It Singapore! Programme has encouraged more than 400,000 Singaporean students and teachers to get active since 2003.Kellogg’s sponsors a School Breakfast Club in South Korea, providing free cereal for breakfast, as well as nutrition education classes and the company runs a School Nutrition Education Program in over 20 cities across India. Mars, Incorporated is investing in a new Global Food Safety and Quality Center in China. The Center will conduct research to gain early warning of new food safety threats and develop enabling science and talent that can be translated into robust food safety and quality systems.

These public-private partnerships are crucial to ensuring people have access to safe, high quality affordable food and that they understand more about good nutrition. The contributions of government, academia, industry and community organizations are all vital to these discussions and solutions.

The food industry understands these are complex challenges, and is responding. There is much to be done and it is time to scale up partnerships with a wider group of stakeholders and set common goals to ensure a healthy future for all.

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