New Era of Food Standards for International Agricultural Trade
The world’s shrinking supply of arable land and water, the growing use of agricultural feed stocks for industrial purposes, and technological advancements will continue to play a vital role in the ability of agricultural and food production to meet the world’s growing food needs. This gains further importance because food demand is expected to double by 2050. Innovation in food and agricultural production is necessary but often also invites controversy as governments, companies, and consumer groups frequently differ on the acceptable level of risk associated with a new technology. Concerns about the transmission of disease and pests, that the international trade of food products raises, too need to be kept in mind.
Burdensome and divergent unnecessary standards are a challenge for all producers, since they erode the benefits offered by tariff and subsidy cuts. They are particularly worrisome for producers in developing countries, who often lack the capacity and technology to meet them. Even though great efforts have been made to arrive at internationally agreed standards, many countries abide by standards beyond those agreed, or they block consensus on developing workable internationally agreed-upon standards. The resulting divergent standards create more problems than they resolve!
Although countries should have the sovereign right to set their own standards, they should follow internationally agreed standards to the extent possible. Private sector standards too are increasingly of concern in the realm of international trade and competition. Practices of commodity purchasers and food processing companies and the demands of consumers have significant effects on the sustainability of rural livelihoods. Consumers are demanding more sustainably produced food and agricultural products–even biofuels–and private companies are responding. The private sector’s standards for meeting such “sustainability criteria” affect the ability of farmers to provide commodities to these companies. This is because the private sector’s directives to suppliers often carry more weight than government regulations and business standards can lead to greater transfer of knowledge and technology than government measures can ever hope to achieve.
In 2011, the Food Safety Modernization Act was signed into law in the United States. In 2012, the Safe Food for Canadians Act became law in Canada. Both countries have demonstrated their commitment to making food as safe as possible by modernizing legislation and supporting a robust industry to support a food safety culture.
Updated food safety legislation protects consumers through prevention and streamlines regulations and administration for improved ease of compliance by businesses. Both Canadian and U.S. governments also understand that as top food safety performing countries, they are enhancing international market and trade opportunities.
Also, in mid-January, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ushered in the new Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR), introducing licensing, preventive control, and traceability obligations for food preparation companies and importers. Over the coming 12 to 30 months, various requirements will be phased in slowly. The big thing is that almost everyone doing business in food in Canada or trading in food with Canada will need a CFIA Safe Food for Canadians licence. This applies to importers, exporters, processors, and some brokers/distributors. Also, traceability is now mandatory—one step forward and one step back—plus retailers of food will have to keep records of the foods they receive. The third key element is that all licence holders will have to have written preventive control plans (PCPs) that not only cover food safety but also cover consumer protection requirements such as weights and labels. The new regulations more clearly identify the responsibility of importers to ensure that the product they import in Canada meets Canadian requirements through having their own preventive control plans in place.
On the other hand, FSMA regulations attempt to define a complex system-wide set of rules designed to move the food supply chain to improve over the next 50 years. Such changes generally take at least a generation to effectively implement. Current deadlines for “full implementation” are unrealistic.
With little or no ability to rapidly and cost-effectively detect primary hazards at the farm level, contaminants are set to travel through the supply chain with no traceability clearly defined or required. Greater emphasis must be placed on low-cost, easy-to-implement hazard-detection tools (sampling) that can be put in the hands of farmers for early hazard detection. Traceability must be mandated, and food movement, identity, condition, and location related information should be visible as real-time information. With proper training on the FSMA rules, FDA would be capable of adequate enforcement. Validation guidelines for new technologies may be more reasonably addressed by units within and external to FDA other than those involved in enforcement, and in partnership with academia, private industry, and others in the public sector.
The question is, whether developing countries like India are ready to meet these modern standards or we continue to face the problem of rejections? We need to become well-prepared to implement the modern state of art technologies if we wish to take our global position in food trade to newer heights.