Business News of Monday, 10 December 2012

Source: B&FT

Food Safety Policy on the table

The Food and Drugs Board (FDB) has drafted a Food Safety Policy aimed at streamlining various legislations that govern food safety in the country, Head of its Food Inspectorate Department, Ebenezer Essel, has told the B&FT.

“The key aspects of this policy include the mission and vision of Ghana with regard to food safety, the streamlining of all legislations with regard to food safety, building the capacity of all institutions involved in food-safety management, strengthening inspection services, strengthening laboratory services, and strengthening import control among others,” he said.

“There has been a stakeholders meeting to look at a second draft. There are a few things that have to be looked into again. So let’s give ourselves a few months and then we hope to roll it out,” he said.

Nationally, food regulation is scattered among several institutions including the Police, Customs, Standards Authority, FDB, and Food Research Institute.

The policy will address overlaps in the roles of the various organisations, with the FDB as an apex body given the function to coordinate their activities.

“We recognise that when we are dealing with primary food production, we have to consider have irrigation. So if there is any institution that is involved in irrigation that institution will equally be involved because we don’t want to irrigate farms with polluted water. So the policy is looking at the entire food-supply chain and all the agencies involved,” he said.

The policy also encourages the establishment of private laboratories to complement the efforts of government in ensuring the safety of food. Mr. Essel said all laboratory services in the country are currently provided by government.

“If it is about farm produce surveillance to assess the pesticide residue levels in fruits and vegetables, then we can send samples of these products to them [the private labs] to assess and establish the pesticide level – and that will inform the Ministry of Agriculture that for this particular area which produces a lot of tomatoes we have realised that they are using this particular pesticide and it is in excess of the allowed quantities, and therefore we need to advise them on good agricultural practices.”

Food safety is a major issue in the country and the lack of it is believed to be mostly behind the many diarrhoeal cases the country witnesses.

“Everybody eats, from the president to the baby who was born today; and so if you fail to observe proper food-safety practices you expose yourself to all manner of food-borne illnesses,” Mr. Essel said.

The major challenge for the food sector in Ghana, he said, is the fact that the sector is dominated by small-scale or cottage industries which lack the requisite technology and know-how.

“Take for example the fruit juice industry: most of them are using secondary bottles of someone’s imports. Someone imports soy milk from Indonesia and when people have bought and discarded the bottles this is what someone goes for and cleans and use them. So even the packaging industry to support the fruit processors is a challenge.

“They don’t also have sophisticated bottle-washing operations. So either they are wasting a lot of money in the washing operation or they are compromising safety.”

Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) data indicate that in 2006, the government of Ghana spent US$17 million for treatment of food-borne illnesses.

The global incidence of food-borne disease is difficult to estimate, but the WHO says that in 2005 alone 1.8 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases, a great proportion of which is attributed to contamination of food and drinking water