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Sri Lanka to launch project to make food safer

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is about to launch a project to make food produced locally safer and meet international standards.

At present, 4.6 million Sri Lankans fall ill due to foodborne diseases each year and more than 500 of them die, according to the World Health Organisation.

The project called “Support to Food Safety and Quality in Sri Lanka” is to be implemented by UNIDO and funded by the European Union to the tune of EUR 11million, a media statement by the two organisations said.

UNIDO and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCCO) are convening a workshop tomorrow (12) to present to the private sector the findings of the analytical study and the upcoming project. 

The project followed “several analytical studies in recent years, which found that the present multi-agency system of food safety controls had several deficiencies in terms of protection of domestic consumers and ensuring Sri Lankan products comply with standards required by the international market” the statement said.

The study highlights the costs and benefits of food safety reform in terms of export trade and Sri Lankan consumer health. 

The food safety policy development process is expected to lead to an improvement in the legislative and institutional framework, greater transparency, reduced burden on business operators and, ultimately, safer food for all Sri Lankan residents and visitors.

“One of the key reforms being considered is the establishment of a Food Safety Authority in line with best international practices. Towards this end, MOH set up a multi-stakeholder food safety policy working group, advised by consultants from the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) supported by the project, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and World Health Organization (WHO) last year,” UNIDO said. 

In the analytical study undertaken by Dr Ian Goulding, an international expert on food safety systems, it was found that improved food safety conditions could deliver benefits worth Rs. 655 billion over a ten-year period through improved health of the population and increased exports.

“It could also lead to an increase in GDP by 3.1 per cent by 2030 compared to a scenario with no change or investment towards food safety reform. However, to achieve this would require investment and increased operating costs of a positive cost-benefit ratio provides a strong economic argument for implementing the reforms being considered by the Working Group.”

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In addition to ensuring that the number of people suffering foodborne diseases is reduced, Goulding says, “farmers fail to get better prices for their products because a lack of guarantees regarding the safety of products they produce limits their access to premium markets.”

The expectation is that the strengthening of food safety conditions all along the supply chain, for example through a modern risk-based control system applied by a well-organised Food Safety Authority, would be both more effective and easier for food business operators to comply with.

However, the analytical study also points out that new investment measures will have to be developed to finance improved food safety conditions, including equipment for farmers and fishers, better food preservation infrastructure (e.g. chill stores, spice dryers and stainless steel food processing equipment) and introduction of modern food safety management systems, such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP).

To bolster the government’s efforts towards food safety reform, the EU announced a forthcoming EU-funded project titled “Support to Food Safety and Quality in Sri Lanka” to be implemented by UNIDO, FAO and German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ). The project, with a total value of EUR 11 million, is in the final stages of preparation and will support reform of the government’s food control system, promote organic agriculture, and aim to mobilise investment finance that would complement the project’s technical assistance to SME food business operators for the introduction of modern food safety management systems that would improve conditions in the food industry. (Colombo, March 11, 2020)

-Arjuna Ranawana

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