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Singapore Food Agency to focus on food safety and security: Masagos

SINGAPORE — Food safety and security are critical to Singapore, particularly as the country relies heavily on food imports, which can be affected by climate change and food crises.

Singapore Food Agency to focus on food safety and security: Masagos

At least four Members of Parliament raised concerns about food prices, pointing to incidents in recent months that threatened supply of food and drove prices up.

SINGAPORE — Food safety and security are critical to Singapore, particularly as the country relies heavily on food imports, which can be affected by climate change and food crises.

That is why the two issues will be the focus of a new statutory board, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

“Food security is fundamental for our national security. We have worked hard to ensure Singapore’s food safety and security over the decades,” said Mr Masagos during the second reading of the Singapore Food Agency Bill in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 12).

The SFA will be formed in April and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will be dissolved.

The AVA’s food-related responsibilities will be consolidated with the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

The role of the SFA is to:

  • Ensure the resilience of Singapore’s food supply chain and manage the impact of any adverse disruptions on food sources.

  • Improve food safety, uphold international standards here and promote fair trade and commerce in the food industry.

The agri-food landscape is “changing rapidly” with global demand expected to grow by 60 per cent by 2050, said Mr Masagos. “Vital resources to meet the increased food demand, such as water and energy, are increasingly scarce.”

With climate change added to the mix, competition for scarce resources will escalate, he added.

As the food supply chain is becoming more globalised, there is also a need to “manage the risks from the growing complexity”, because this increases the “potential points of failure where contamination can enter the food chain”, said Mr Masagos.

This will lead to difficulty in identifying the source of problems and “we must ensure that our food safety and security regime is well ahead of the curve”, he stressed. 

Eleven Members of Parliament (MPs) rose to speak on the Bill on Tuesday, bringing up issues that broadly covered three areas: Food prices and security, food safety and food wastage.

ISSUE 1: FOOD PRICES AND SECURITY

At least four MPs raised concerns about food prices, pointing to incidents in recent months that threatened supply of food and drove prices up.

In January, Malaysia temporarily stopped its export of four species of fish and shrimp to Singapore ahead of the Chinese New Year festival to meet shortages because of the monsoon and festive seasons. Global food crises in 2007 and 2008 had also led to spikes in food prices here.

The MPs urged the SFA to work towards a diversification of food sources and to mitigate price volatility.

Mr Masagos said the SFA is building on AVA’s efforts to diversify import sources. Their measures include overseas sourcing trips and increasing the number of farms across different countries that can export to Singapore.

“SFA will introduce requirements for importers of key food items to adopt plans to mitigate any supply disruption,” he added.

The agency will also intensify efforts to grow the local agri-food ecosystem and plans include training specialists and tapping technology for the tasks.

Public education efforts on supporting local produce or food substitutes such as plant-based proteins or liquid eggs will be ramped up, said Mr Masagos.

ISSUE 2: FOOD SAFETY

Food safety was another issue that featured prominently in MPs’ speeches, particularly in light of the recent spate of food poisoning cases, which left one person dead and many others ill.

Nee Soon Group Representative Constituency (GRC) MP Lee Bee Wah said that while she was heartened to note that the SFA will improve regulatory oversight on food safety, there was scope to review mandatory basic food hygiene courses that food handlers need to undergo.

Nominated MP (NMP) Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad suggested that the SFA could make use of emerging technologies such as blockchain to tackle food-safety challenges.

Non-constituency MP Leon Perera and NMP Anthea Ong urged the authorities to implement a whistleblowing system in the food industry, so that food-safety lapses can be better detected and dealt with.

The SFA could also examine the work conditions of food handlers more closely, “to understand if there is more we can do to address the root causes” of negligent food-handling practices, said Mr Perera.

Mr Masagos said in his speech that a single agency such as the SFA will “support consistent administration and enforcement of the regulatory framework for food establishments, balanced against supporting enterprise and job creation”.

Agreeing with suggestions that technology could be used to make regulations more efficient and effective, he added that this, together with an increased level of accountability from the food industry, will complement an already-robust enforcement action.

The SFA is also looking into streamlining licensing standards for food businesses and combining existing licences.

“For example, we are looking into ways to streamline the licences for premises carrying out both central kitchen and catering operations,” Mr Masagos said.

ISSUE 3: FOOD WASTAGE

Ms Ong spoke about how the SFA could, as part of its role as the leading agency on food safety and security, come up with measures to address food waste and insecurity.

For instance, she said there could be regulations to disincentivise and incentivise businesses when it came to throwing food away.

Similarly, Mr Melvin Yong, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, also called on the authorities to do more with educating the public on food waste. The SFA could play a “matchmaker role” in matching charities with food businesses, he added.

In his speech, Mr Masagos said that food waste is one of the NEA’s priorities in its Year Towards Zero Waste movement.

“My ministry recognises that government regulations may promote the reduction of food waste, and will look further into it with our partners, taking into consideration other factors such as food safety and business costs,” he added.

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