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Food Safety as a Challenge for Myanmar

For Myanmar, where agriculture and the agribusiness sector significantly contribute to the national economy, food safety remains a major concern. In 2017 and 2018 several studies have indicated the inadequate food safety standards. A research team of the Department of Medical Research tested eighty-four BBQ fish vendors in Yangon Region and 27 percent of the fish contained the Vibrio bacteria. Another study by the regional government in Yangon showed that 93.5 percent of red bean cakes sold in the markets were laced with formalin. Another case displayed the poor safety concerns at factories, when one child died of lead poisoning and fifteen other children were hospitalized in Hmawbi Township in Yangon this month. And a small-scale research executed in the Inle lake region at the beginning of this year discovered that 75 percent of the vegetable samples had pesticide residues from both villages and markets. Food safety has not only impact on the social well-being of Myanmar’s citizens, it also influences tourism, economy and the development of the country.

Myanmar and its Southeast Asian neighbours are seen as countries with minimal and limited food safety standards. In the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) Global Food Security Index 2017, among the 113 countries Myanmar ranks 71 for quality and safety. This is lower than countries as Thailand, Laos and India, according to the report of the World Health Organization. A lead agricultural economist at World Bank stated that the production loss due to food safety issues costs more than $40 billion annually across the Asian market, from which Myanmar makes up for $500 million to $700 million a year. When food safety standards, practices and enforcement of these standards are put into place, this will enable food enterprises to improve efficiency and cut costs, contributing to a stronger brand value and enabling Myanmar to diversify opportunities in new markets.

According to Tin Win, assistant director of Plant Protection Division under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation, there is a role for the Private Sector, by encouraging the supply of safe inputs such as pesticides and veterinary drugs, raising awareness, education and training for farmers and enterprises. In 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) stresses the urgency to provide technical training to the staffs of management agencies at various ministries, covering specific areas such as food safety, sanitation, good hygiene practice, and good manufacturing practice.

Also the Agrobusiness Advocacy Group of EuroCham highly recommends having updated laws and standards in place and make them work in practice, which entails enforcement, controlling mechanisms and raising awareness. Of course, adjustments to meet the internationally required food safety standards is needed in the long run but priority should also be on national level. Amongst the recommendations related to agrobusiness in EuroCham’s recently published White Book are, completing the revision of the National Food Law, finalizing practical Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) guidelines and make them known and setting up a task force to safeguard the effective implementation of the National Food Law and GAP guidelines are highlighted. Investment in food safety management systems is a prerequisite for the growth of agribusiness, which accounts for 38 percent of gross domestic product and 23 percent of the country’s exports. Unlocking its potential will ultimately benefit consumers with safer food and better health, help boost the agricultural sector and tourism, increase exports, create jobs and economic growth.