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
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
•Productivity/ efficiency improvement.
•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
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.