Food safety is a must for sustainable development

Food safety is a must for sustainable development

Ajay Kakra Last Updated: April 21, 2015 | 10:58 IST


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Leader, Food and Agriculture, PwC India Ajay Kakra
Food safety is a theme having high priority and relevance among governments, civil society, the private sector and intergovernmental agencies across the globe. Changing consumer preferences, changes in production and distribution methods, evolving trade and travel, shifts in climatic and environmental factors, and growing anti-microbial resistance are some of the factors that increase the probability of occurrence of food hazards and food safety incidents. Unsafe food is a major public health issue and restoring food trust with the consumer is now becoming an important area of concern among governments, regulators and enforcement agencies, and large multinational companies.

In India, increasing agricultural exports have long been an integral part of the government's sector-development strategy. However, there have been serious challenges faced by exporters in order to streamline exports with the ever-changing food quality and safety norms of major importing countries. There have been incidences in which Indian export products have not complied with international food quality and safety norms leading to restrictions in market access to the importing countries.

There have been concerns over pesticide residues in horticultural produce (EU's ban on India's mango exports in 2014, Saudi Arabia's ban on India's chillies' export in 2014, the Indian Grape Export Crisis in 2003), aflatoxin contamination and the use of prohibited food colorants in spices' export (Indian dry chili exports faced rejection in Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK due to the presence of aflatoxin in 2004-05, EU banned fish and fish exports from India in 1997 due to salmonella detection).
Sudden changes in the import norms, stringent food safety and quality norms followed by major importing countries have increased challenges for food exporters in gaining access to these markets. Even for large multinational companies disruption in food supply is a major concern for loss of brand value among its consumers.

Apart from dealing with the challenges in getting access to the international market, the food industry has to deal with various intrinsic issues impacting food quality and safety across the supply chain. The existing extension system does not focus on food quality and safety domain as a result of which there is limited awareness among farmers towards these areas. Further, limited training avenues and support infrastructure, coupled with high cost of certification, creates a disincentive for adoption of standard practices by small holders and marginal farmers. This poses serious challenges to product quality standardisation for food companies engaged in cross border procurement and trade.

Further, quality and safety management systems, product certification and standardisation regarding food safety and quality are still in their infancy and need immediate attention. The government should provide an integrated legal framework and platform to facilitate implementation of food quality and safety management systems. To further harness the potential of the agriculture and food industry, robust policy strategies on food quality and safety are absolutely imperative, with emphasis given on a holistic farm-to-fork approach, as an effective means of reducing probable food hazards. In addition, focused approach towards improving areas such as tax incentives, skill development and education programmes, stakeholder awareness campaigns, international cooperation and related policies can improve the level of food safety and quality in India and gain the much-needed Food Trust among consumers.

Concerted efforts are required both by the government and the private sector at policy and implementation levels, respectively. There is a need to go beyond compliance to improve standards and secure greater market access of our food products in the developed markets. Enabling transparent integration of knowledge, technology and information across the food supply chain, coupled with effective risk monitoring, could lead to improved traceability and increased supply chain resilience, ensuring food safety and security at the national level.

PwC considers food safety an important precursor to ensuring food security. Food safety is a vital constituent to achieve sustainable development - it must be systematically assimilated into all policies and interventions to improve nutrition and food security. It is also quintessential for the food value chain stakeholders to assess and mitigate food safety risks throughout the supply chain to maintain trade competitiveness and to ensure sustainability in the long run.





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