For the first time, the Ministry of Health and Indigenous Medical Services (MOH) launched a process to establish the food safety policy of Sri Lanka last year. This 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.
Within the framework of the European Union (EU) funded EU-Sri Lanka Trade-Related Assistance project, an important new study released this month titled “Socio-economic impacts of food safety reform in Sri Lanka” 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 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.
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 LKR 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 percent 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 LKR 273 billion with a major part of these costs falling on farmers and food business operators. The very positive cost-benefit ratio provides a strong economic argument for implementing the reforms being considered by the Working Group.
Dr. Goulding says, “According to WHO estimates, about 4.6 million people, that is 20 percent of the country’s population, fall ill each year due to food-borne illnesses and an estimated 560 people die. In addition, 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. On 12 March, UNIDO and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce (CCCO) are convening a workshop to present to the private sector the findings of the analytical study and the upcoming project.