Thursday, July 21, 2011


Why should America be concerned about food safety logistics in other countries? Being a super power the US always behaved imperiously with almost all its trade partners and in stead of a policy of "hand holding", the policy was more concerned with "policing" and "arm twisting". Lately realization has dawned on this country that its own citizens are vulnerable to food safety hazards, though unwittingly, if there is no understanding and cooperation with its trading partners. Food related dangers cannot be avoided but can be tackled more efficiently by working towards a global industry regime practicing universally acceptable safety standards and practices. Of course agencies like Codex Alimentarius Commission is already doing a yeomen service by harmonizing food standards with cooperation from from all UN members but when it comes to logistics and infrastructure many countries find the going tough. It is here that wealthy nations like the US must lend a helping hand through technical and economic assistance to upgrade and modernize safety assessment systems in many countries which are in the export trade sending their foods across the world.
A country like the US cannot deny the fact that two thirds of its fresh produce need and 80% of fish supply come from other countries and this is like exposing its "soft belly" to untoward incidences of dangers from unsafe foods. With terrorism raising its ugly head in many parts of the world, it is a question of time before food becomes a tool for terrorism and if a nation depends too much on imported foods, its vulnerability to food related dangers becomes all the more critical. Probably Americans must have realized this bitter truth and are coming forth for genuine international collaboration for pre-empting such a scenario in future.
A recent report by the Safety agency of the US has brought out these issue clearly and succinctly and according to this vision, there is no alternative to "assembling a global coalition of regulators dedicated to building and strengthening a world-wide product safety net work" for which concerted action is needed. It also envisages "developing global data system and net work to share real time information" which will be useful as a reliable resource material to be shared among member countries. Expanding intelligence gathering, focusing on risk analysis and helping third parties through strengthening of their capabilities are also envisaged. Knowing pretty well that 100% inspection is never in the realm of reality, alternate system will have to be evolved to ensure 100% safety.
The plans as illustrated in the FDA Report are indeed laudable but translating it into actionable program is not going to be easy. For example how is it possible to actually get more inspections done in the countries from where exports arrive at US ports? Most of these nations, engaged in export of raw and minimally processed food materials lack even the basic infrastructure that is far inadequate for carrying out safety related inspections. It is here that large investments are required for capacity building. A country like India gets high marks after the rolling out of the FSSAI though it may take years before even the minimum acceptable infrastructure is established. The question is whether developed countries like the US will ever step into this area and invest in upgrading the infrastructure to a level acceptable to all. It may be a Utopian
dream but cannot be ruled out altogether in the light of frequent serious food poisoning episodes and costly product recalls becoming a routine matter in these rich countries.

It is time to realize that no country, however powerful it may be, can be 100% self reliant when it comes to food production due to many factors and the whole world trade edifice is based on this unshakable truth. Take the examples of countries like Japan, England, Singapore and many others which depend on imports to meet a substantial part of their food requirements because of constraints on land and unfavorable weather conditions, Is it not in the interest of such countries to take those countries, richly endowed with natural resources as genuine partners and invest in their well being? Investments on the food safety infrastructure and technical manpower will be richly rewarding in the long term. The new paradigm of cooperation as enunciated by the FDA of the US must be given highest priority at the UN level without further delay.

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