ISLAMABAD: The food authorities established in Sindh and Balochistan over the past few years are still facing teething problems and have not yet become fully operational, an institutional capacity assessment of the two authorities shows.

The Growth for Rural Advancement and Sustainable Progress (Grasp) project funded by the European Union conducted the capacity assessment of the two food authorities at a stakeholders’ workshop in Islamabad in order to identify areas and activities for technical assistance and to develop a plan for strengthening them as per best international practices.

The assessment report outlined the need for standard operating procedures (SOPs) for determining the standards of various edible commodities, harmonisation of food regulations, field visits, and storage and display of foods.

One of the key findings of the report was the need for harmonisation of national and provincial food regulations. This can be achieved by registration and licencing of food premises and food products originating from other provinces and revenue sharing between federal and provincial governments.

EU-funded project identifies areas and activities for technical assistance

Speaking at the workshop held the other day, Grasp’s National Coordinator Azher Choudhry said the capacity assessment report served as a roadmap to support and provide technical inputs to improve the work of the food authorities in the two provinces.

The recently developed food authorities lack operational and technical staff along with constraints relating to infrastructure, mobile and other laboratories, human resources and diversity in expertise.

Due to these underlying barriers, poor coordination mechanisms in the food authorities and availability of SOPs and rules of business need to be further revised in areas comprising food recalls/traceability and consideration towards novel/GMO (genetically modified organism) foods.

Furthermore, interpretation of food safety standards should be uniform within the food authorities which needs extensive training sessions.

The report recommended that the food authorities need to develop frameworks that educate and raise awareness about food safety issues, consumer rights, complaint mechanisms, hygiene, sanitation and compliance.

The Sindh Food Authority (SFA), established in 2018, is facing the challenging task to frame and step up food safety and control systems for local sales and export of food commodities. SFA is in the process of establishing its central food control laboratory as achieving globally accepted laboratory quality and safety perspective need to be prioritised.

SFA director general Zubair Pervez Ahmed stressed the need for use of smart technology, transparent procedures, public awareness campaign and ease of managing safe food supply chain for sustainable growth. He referred to a UN report regarding 40 per cent water scarcity by 2030 and advised the experts to develop a comprehensive plan for ensuring food supply with safety and international standards.

According to the institutional assessment, the Balochistan Food Authority (BFA) has to aggressively pursue and improve food safety and control systems for local sales and export of food commodities. Achieving globally accepted laboratory quality and safety perspective needs to be prioritised.

Balochistan Food Secretary Noor Ahmed Pirkani lauded the efforts of EU-funded project Grasp for conducting a comprehensive institutional assessment of BFA. He emphasised the need for inter-departmental coordination among various stakeholders to provide safe and hygienic food to consumers. He also highlighted the progress BFA has made in a short span of time after its establishment.

The need is to improve, strengthen and institutionalise coordination among all stakeholders to support the function of BFA and ensure quality of food products as per national standards at all levels, from farm to market, for a healthy Pakistan.

BFA has actively started working for establishment of its head office and availability of the human resources required. It has also begun securing funds and infrastructure for building a central food control laboratory and is in the process of acquiring a mobile laboratory for field operations.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2021

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