Region Backs Safe Food Strategy

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Agriculture ministers in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) on Friday endorsed a five-year strategy and action plan to build a region-wide food safety system. The system will be based on mutually recognised, science-based standards, product tracing, and information sharing, especially on hazard lists for key commodities. 

gms food safety standards
There is a need to ensure food safety to safeguard the health of consumers. KHMER TIMES / CHOR SOKUNTHEA

The strategy, named the Siem Reap Action Plan 2018-2022, would increase regional cooperation to harmonise food safety standards and build a global hub for safe, sustainable, and inclusive agro-based value chains.

“The 2018-2022 GMS Strategy and Siem Reap Action Plan will help us become a leading supplier of safe and environment-friendly agricultural products,” said Veng Sakhon, Cambodia’s Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. “It is a clear testimony of our commitment to contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals by ensuring that food safety, like food security, is a human right for all.

“Currently we are not worried about food security anymore like we were in the past, but now we are thinking about how and where to buy safe and standard food. This is the reason we have discussed it in the meeting,” he added.

Sakhon asked the Asian Development Bank, as a development partner, to help each country to prepare the framework to enhance safe and standard food in the GMS region. Ramesh Subramaniam, director-general of ADB’s Southeast Asia department, said ADB would provide investments and technical assistance to help GMS countries build safe and sustainable food systems. Specifically, the institution would help countries improve food safety infrastructure and establish the regulatory frameworks for common risk assessment, risk management and information sharing.

“With the GMS countries’ shared borders and increasingly connected agriculture supply chains, they are well positioned to supply safe and quality food with reduced environmental footprint to their Southeast Asian neighbours and the world,” said Subramaniam. “We look forward to working with GMS to help countries harness the already strong commitment in each country and boost trust among consumers, retailers, potential trading partners and stakeholders.”

The ADB hosted the secretariat of the GMS, which comprises Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam. The meeting for GMS agriculture ministers, the second in a decade, also included a public-private dialogue co-sponsored by Food Industry Asia. Participants agreed that the public and private sectors and nongovernment organisations should work together to harmonise food safety standards. Public-private collaborations are planned to upgrade technical skills on food control system and standards.

The meeting also showcased an array of safe and sustainably produced agriculture and food products in the GMS, such as a prahok fish paste processing site in Cambodia and agro-environment tourism hotspots in the region. Located in Chong Kneas, Siem Reap, the prahok fish paste project attempts to introduce good hygiene product standards for the processing of the prahok fish paste as well as to assist in its marketing. The first GMS Agriculture Ministers Meeting was held in April 2007 in Beijing.

This article was originally published in the Khmer Times.

How do you think Cambodia compares to other countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion when it comes to food safety standards?