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Report highlights food safety issues facing CAREC countries

The CAREC region faces serious food safety challenges, but according to a report, the potential trade benefits of improving the system could be considerable.

Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) includes Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Mongolia, and China.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) report provides country and regional insights that can help strengthen food safety systems in the region to increase intraregional and global food trade. It recommends strategies for harmonizing food safety legal frameworks, regulations and practices, and improving the capacity of stakeholders to enforce food standards.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, there were 163 cases of salmonella infection; 32,081 cases of E. coli infection; 8,395 cases of hepatitis A; and 56 cases of botulism in 2017. Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic had significantly higher cases of diarrheal disease due to Salmonella infection than developed countries in 2016. In 2017, Georgia recorded a total of 5,969 suspected cases of foodborne diarrhea and 75,500 cases of brucellosis in Kazakhstan. and hepatitis, Uzbekistan registered 200 cases of salmonellosis and botulism in children.

The region is subject to adoption by each country Impact of complex food control systems. This leads to wide variations in the structure, maturity, and design of such systems. Most CAREC member countries (CMCs) have a fragmented approach to food safety controls, with limited cooperation between local and international agencies, the report said.

There are only a few formal mechanisms to encourage the sharing of food safety information and collaboration among CMCs. In addition, many members have outdated systems and standards, often based on individual products and extensive end-product testing, that do not comply with WTO sanitary and phytosanitary standards.

CMC’s national agencies lack funding which limits their ability to operate and implement food safety policy and regulatory changes. Other issues include a focus on regulating food rather than operators, reliance on paper-based methods and end-product testing, outdated laboratory equipment, and a lack of understanding of HACCP methods.

An Asian Development Bank project in the region runs from 2016 to 2021 and aims to improve food safety standards, national laboratories and training.

Capacity building

Food exports and imports are perishable products, if in Failure to comply with standards throughout the supply chain up to final consumption poses a serious food safety risk. The region relies heavily on imports to meet its food needs. This could result in exposure to unsafe products.

Given the economic situation in the region, local food quality systems may not be able to properly handle food during transport and storage; this may affect the quality of domestically available products. Strict adherence to food safety standards is costly and will affect the price competitiveness of the region’s products in the short term.

Large numbers of small livestock producers make monitoring of meat at the farm level difficult. This means that samples from slaughterhouses and processing plants are not adequately tested for antibiotic residues. From slaughterhouses, fresh meat products are sent to processors, wholesalers, supermarkets and retailers. Due to the lack of refrigerated trucks, the risk of microbial growth during transportation is high. Meat processing is carried out in facilities that do not meet international best food safety practices, which increases the risk of contamination, the analysis said.

Establishment of regional expert groups and development of the CAREC food website recommends safety net harmonization of sanitary and phytosanitary frameworks.

According to the report, a two-tiered approach to improving food safety systems in the region is an appropriate policy strategy. This approach categorizes Tier 2 countries as those that are more advanced in terms of food safety frameworks and adoption of international standards. These countries are Georgia, China, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Afghanistan’s food security system is weak, while Tajikistan’s framework remains fragmented, unresponsive, and lacks decision support and infrastructure. Pakistan’s system lacks people to coordinate interagency activities, complicating food safety governance and often failing to facilitate trade and protect public health.

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