FOOD

 

FOOD SAFETY IN PAKISTAN

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The Safe Food Conference initiative

 

 

 

By SAIMA MOEEZUDDIN
May 09 - 15, 2005
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Despite the advances in food items processing and production technology, providing safe food and keeping food safe is still a largely unachieved goal worldwide and a matter of great concern. A plethora of food related diseases are dominating the health problems in the developing world, besides also being a major economic threat. The World Health Organisation recently reported that more than five and a half thousand children die every day from consumption of food and water contaminated with bacteria. The WHO reports that 1.3 million children under the age of five die annually from diarrhoeal diseases caused by unsafe food and water; yet another 2.2 million die from respiratory infections caused or exacerbated by poor sanitation.

Identification of causes of food spoilage or contamination is the key point of producing safe food. Microbiological hazards are the most important cause of unsafe food. Diarrhoea is the most common symptom of food borne infections and is often followed by under-nutrition and impairment of the immune system.

Developments in food and biological sciences have raised new concerns related to food production. Many countries have prepared food regulations for production, packaging and labelling of ingredients used in the preparation of food items. Though different countries have different food consumption patterns, basic steps of prevention from contaminants of food are similar.

Food safety has become the focus of attention of international trade discussions following the conclusions of the Uruguay Round in 1995. Since then standards and regulations in developed countries have become very comprehensive and stringent. Several developing countries have also been taking steps to develop new and improved food safety systems to ensure safe food for domestic public as well as to demonstrate compliance with food safety standards in export markets. For instance, Morocco and Tunisia have developed a national strategy for food control. Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Sudan and UAE have drafted new food legislation according to international requirements. Iran and Syria have reviewed and updated their food standards and regulations.

The impact of WTO has led many developing countries to assess and upgrade their production capacities and safety standards. Major difficulties that most manufacturers face in meeting international safety and quality standards include weak scientific research, testing, conformity and equivalence. Several efforts in the form of seminars, workshops and communication campaigns have been launched in this regard.

 

 

The International Food Safety Conference is a crucial part of this initiative. It addresses key issues and concepts related to food safety and production, and also provide a unique opportunity to learn about the latest developments in this field. Over the past four years, more than 1,000 senior food safety specialists from over 40 countries have met at these food safety conferences.

In Pakistan, the safe food initiative has been pioneered by English Biscuit Manufacturers, the country's largest biscuits and cookies manufacturer. EBM had partnered with United Registrar of Systems (URS), a UK-based food quality and safety certification organisation, in year 2000 to develop a forum to create awareness regarding food safety. URS is the world's first and only certification agency offering the highly demanded and internationally accepted UKAS Accredited ISO 9001-2000/ HACCP certification.

EBM and URS have jointly organising safe food conferences since 2002. This annual event brings together experts, local companies, nutritionists, researchers, teachers, restaurant owners and consumers on one platform to discuss issues and advancement of food safety. The Forum aims to create widespread awareness of the importance of safe food and measures that should be adopted by individuals and companies to ensure eradication of food borne diseases.

The EBM/URS Safe Food Conference has established itself as a noteworthy event in Pakistan. The effort is supported by individuals and companies that are conscious of their social responsibilities and are willing to improve their benchmarks to meet the world standards.

This year the focus of attention was on WTO and Pakistan's prospects in the international market. The theme of this year's conference was aptly, "Safe Food 2005: WTO-Are we ready?" Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Khawar M. Butt, Managing Director of EBM pointed out that ISO certifications protect consumers from purchasing low-quality or contaminated food items such as those available on the roadside outlets and unbranded packages. He emphasized that the private and public sector should collaborate to ensure food items are produced in accordance to health and food safety laws. He assured that his company will continue to strive for the achievement of this goal in the times to come also.

Addressing the conference, the Advisor to the Chief Minister, Imam Din Shauqeen said "The government will take stern steps to curb the production and selling of sub-standard and hazardous food items in the province."

Other speakers included local regulatory bodies representatives and quality assurance managers from food manufacturing companies and Mubashir Ansari, General Manager Marketing & Sales, EBM; Ali Khan, CEO, URS; Syed Abu Ahmad Akif, Chief Instructor NIPA; Aziz-ur-Rehman, Tariq Naeem, Deputy General Manager Works and Q.A., EBM; Farhatullah Khan; Agha Shahab, Director Laziza Foods and Hamid Maker, CEO Help Line Trust.

The speakers emphasized on the formulation of a national policy on food safety and its strict implementation in all food productions. They said that the lack of a national policy not only threatened food safety but had even led the country into troubled waters where the traders and manufacturers were facing possible trade sanctions from many countries on the export of agricultural and food products under the sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) agreement.

They also pointed out that producers use low standard raw materials such as contaminated water, food colours, flavours, fats and oils in the preparation of food items that go completely unchecked. The panel said that the scope of quality assurance has widened from product to the process and now to the overall performance of the food industry, but the food industry in Pakistan at large still needs to go a long way in ensuring provision of safe food to the consumers.

In the beginning of the year 2000, EBM took decisive steps to gear itself for WTO and initiated a number of projects to cope with international competitors. The major areas in focus were:

•Productivity/ efficiency improvement.
•Technology improvement
•Quality excellence
•Human resource development

Apart from technical advancements such as new plant installations and state-of-the-art laboratories, the company also initiated two programmes in different schools. The "Safe foods at School" programme aims to ensure safe foods in canteens through the use of standardized evolution programme.

The "School children Nutrition Promotion" programme provides safe food to low income school children for a period of one year. During this period, data regarding dietary intakes and the effects of supplementation of energy rich biscuits are collected which is then used for research purposes to develop better products.

The conference turned out to be a unique opportunity for a diverse group of people to gather on one platform and devise ways to convince the federal government to have a national policy and the provincial government to pass the Consumer Protection Ordinance, Sindh, 2004. It was emphasized that the laws and the policies should be implemented in letter and spirit so that Pakistan could be brought back on the trade map.