KENYA – Stakeholders in the food industry have underscored the importance of harmonised and efficient food safety regulatory systems towards realising growth of the sector.

Speaking during a three day conference which brought together food safety regulators and industrial players across the food industry, stakeholders stressed on the importance of a resilient food safety regulatory system in promoting consumer confidence and enhancing local and international trade.

Held in Nairobi, Kenya, this year’s AFMASS Eastern Africa event attracted major regulatory agencies and industrial players who sought to explore the status of food regulatory systems in the region as well as identifying interventions that can streamline the regulatory environment.

Speaking during a food safety panel discussion, Julia Otaya, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager for Coca-Cola East and Central Africa Franchise, highlighted transparency between regulators, industrial players as well as consumers as an important aspect in enhancing food safety

“Very important that the food systems are there to protect consumers, and hence it is paramount that each player along the value chain delivers optimally in respect to safety. Similarly, regulators must ensure that we have a robust framework with well outlined guidelines,” she said.

According to Dr Wanga Christopher, director policy research and regulatory affairs from the Ministry of Agriculture In Kenya, sanitary and phytosanitary standards forms the grass roots in realising food safety.

Roya Galindo, director of regulatory services in the North American institute, identifies preventive control for human and animal food, produce safety standards, food safety verifications programs, third party accreditation, sanitary transport and prevention of intentional adulterations as roles that food processors must play in order to ensure food safety.

Additionally, she called for regulators to benchmark with other regulatory frameworks in the world on proposed regulatory standards for ease of implementation as well as ensure development of well-defined institutions in order to promote synergy.

“What is the government doing to ensure it continually improved food safety regulations? It is not enough just to have regulations, but we [regulators] need to ensure we are striving to adopt to changes and challenges by developing flexible structures and systems,” she extrapolates.

“We have to engage the industry in developing the standards in order to identify what works and what doesn’t work,” Dr Wanga reiterates.

Challenges and Interventions

From an industrial perspective Julia highlights the major challenge experienced as the lack of harmonisation between country standards and specific codex standards especially for the general standards for food ingredients which complicates their implementation.

“Markedly, harmonisation is integral in facilitating implementation of the World Trade Organisation with regards to the SGS and the technical trade barriers agreements.

Ideally, all countries are encouraged to base their measure on international standards in order to create a predictable trade environment,” she explains.

Richard Fritz, a Consultant for the Food and Agriculture Export Alliance (FAEA) in the USA, said that harmonisation of food safety standards while preventing overlapping regulatory institutions was important in promoting seamless alignment of the food regulatory system.

Richard, who has been working with the various governments in developing food safety regulation  for more than 17 years, highlighted that government must provide enabling environment through capacity building of scientists and technical professional in order to develop robust institutions and regulatory frameworks.

As part of the interventions, regulatory bodies have forged partnership with industries in developing standards especially through encouraging participation in regulatory lead forums during the establishment on new regulatory requirements.

Opportunities in the food safety environment

It emerged that different economies have adopted regulatory frameworks cross cutting across major concerns- which have proofed to be efficient in enhancing food safety.

Notably, the United States food safety regulatory system constitutes of 15 executive departments instituted to enhance food safety and working through a Memorandum of Understanding.

Panellists sensitized on the need of allowing for flexibility in regulations, increased proactive awareness through creation of consumer led platforms – which can reduced approval process lead times by integrating digital solution.

Despite being a complex system, it was evident that self-regulatory initiatives within the industrial players as well as more private-public partnerships presents an opportunity in advancing the status of food safety within the region

Dr Wanga notes that, “Our harmonisation, guided by the codex standards which each member of the East African Community (EAC) are implementing under the WTO, will support trade and most importantly food safety.”

 “When there are clear and transparent regulatory guidelines, it is possible for both big and small companies to operate on the same level hence creating a enabling business environment.

“This also makes the importation and export market more categories as well as making it easier for manufacturers to introduce new products since there is lower cost of compliance,” Ms Otaya added.

At a time when the proposal to have the Kenyan food and drug authority is set to be complete, the stakeholders emphasised that regulators should avoid ‘unnecessary complexity’ and allow for complementarity with already existing standards. 

The AFMASS East African event brought together stakeholders across all sectors in the food industry to explore opportunities and latest developments in the multi-billion dollar industry.