BY SAMMY JULIAN
TODAY, buyers and consumers are more meticulous when it comes to the quality and safety of food and other agricultural products they buy.
This is the reason why safety in food production is one of the most urgent issues each country has to face to meet expectations of local, regional and global consumers.
However, the current policy environment in the Philippines does not give significant impetus to food safety issues.
Although Philippine legislation and related issuances provide for various aspects of food safety, the absence of a clear national policy on food safety and the number of agencies involved have led to overlaps and gaps in the implementation of such a program.
Due to this lack of a holistic and coordinated approach to food safety, the subject matter often missed the attention of the policy markets and pressure groups, with food safety coming to the headlines only when there is a mishap involving valuable human lives.
In the absence of a well-defined program on food safety, the agriculture and food sectors, particularly the small holders and micro and small enterprises engaged in food production, cannot fully take advantage of the opportunities presented by the increased global concern for food safety.
These and other problems underscore the importance of immediate and appropriate response to issues as the entire spectrum of production demands that agricultural safety and health measures are in place for local farmers, farm households and consumers as well as the agricultural environment.
This is a sad fact considering that the country has lots of potentials to be at par or even surpass other nations, particularly among the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on safety in food production.
Obviously, what the country lacks is a unified national program that instills confidence in the food supply and, in risk terms, may be defined as assurance that the food supply does not pose an unacceptable risk to human health.
A Philippine Food Safety proposal guided by a framework provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) has been presented in various forums. Unfortunately, the initial attempts to actualize this proposal have not been sustained.
Despite calls reiterating the need for and resume discussions on this proposal, Philippine response has been predominantly reactive and rarely preemptive.
Likewise, consumer organizations in the Philippines need to be strengthened and guided by science-based information for them to function as effective food safety advocates. Unfortunately, a concerted move to make consumers aware of the availability or reliability of information on food safety is lacking.
Given these conditions, food safety standards – especially the use of appropriate technologies and compliance to food safety standards – must be strictly observed if we want to protect our consumers from health hazards, create competitive advantages and ensures the rural livelihood in the value chain.
Without a doubt, the country, being mostly agricultural, must improve its standards from farming to the marketing levels of food production.
Still, we remain optimistic that we can surmount the problems since we have a skilful citizenry, professionals, whose line of expertise is far more excellent than in other countries.
Now is the right time for us to measure up and let the world know that what they can do, we can do, too./PN