Improving regulation to boost exports

Improving regulation to boost exports
23 September 2020
Pakistan barely has a 0.25 per cent share in the global halal food trade of more than $3 trillion, which reflects the need for the government and private sector to take proactive initiatives to explore the true potential of ‘Made in Pakistan’ products and establish a niche for itself. With strong demand in China and Far East countries, the country needs to increase its halal food production and exports of semi-cooked meat.

This was emphasised in a recently held webinar on ‘Halal Industry in Pakistan: Potential and Challenges’ organised by the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It suggested that halal certification be made mandatory for all imports of Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA) should be strengthened to fulfil the mandatory standards requirement of other countries.

In this regard, the decision of the Council of Common Interests is a good one which authorises PSQCA as the only agency to establish and implement a uniform food standard, very much like the United States Department of Agriculture which regulates food safety of packed and branded products in America.

There is a need to rationalise the imposition of zero tolerance of pathogens in food because the current set standards are much higher than those of various other countries

But there is a need to define PSQCA’s mandate in clear terms to avoid confusion and erroneous interpretations. While it exclusively regulates packed and branded foods, district and town administration should regulate safety standards of restaurants and street vendors selling raw meat and different kinds of cooked and uncooked items, keeping in view the ground realities of the particular district and town.
Some of the burning issues requiring the attention of the PSQCA are as follows:

Halal certificate: The government has recently added an encouraging clause in the import policy. According to which the shipment shall be accompanied by a ‘Halal Certificate’ duly issued by the Halal Certification body. But to confirm that imported meat products selling in the local market are Sharia-compliant halal, the PSQCA must ensure that every Halal certificate attached with the product explicitly defines that the animals were not stunned before being hand slaughtered by Muslims and were not fed a diet containing pork by-products.

Pathogen standard: There is a need to rationalise the imposition of zero tolerance of pathogens in food because the current set standards are much higher compared to various other countries. Therefore, a comprehensive pathogen reduction programme for step-by-step gradual implementation should be prepared, as is being done in the USA.

The information and guidance label on packed food must also contain advice about the storage and cooking temperature of food as these are critical for food safety.

Sale of used oil: The Punjab Food Authority (PFA) has prohibited the use of used cooking oil in livestock/poultry feed. Instead, used oil can only be sold to companies licensed by the PFA to produce/manufacture bio-diesel. Needless to say that dividing the market is a violation of the Competition Commission Act. Moreover, it also contradicts the Punjab Animals Feed Stuff and Compound Feed Act which allows the use of used cooking oil in compound animal feeds. Used oil is widely used throughout the world in livestock and poultry feed. Moreover, the University of Veterinary and Animal Science, Lahore, has also endorsed used oil in animal feed. PSQCA must intervene to sort out this issue.

Offences and penalties: Another important aspect that requires revision is the introduction of fines and penalties by the PFA, which are highly coercive, harsh and illogical. For instance, according to existing regulations, if unsafe food results in the death of a person, the food operator or manufacturer may get a life term imprisonment and a fine which may extend to Rs3 million. In addition, the court may direct the food operator to pay Rs500,000 as compensation in case of injury and Rs1m in case of death to the legal heirs. Such punishments may turn out to be counterproductive.

Apart from these issues, the food authority comes up with its own definition of what makes a product safe for human consumption, resulting in the messing up of the safety standards of processed, value-added food products. For instance, the food authority makes a mockery of itself when it lays down mandatory requirements of proteins and fat in a product. In stark contrast, food regulatory authorities across the world neither lay down nutritional requirements of a product nor prescribe any hard-and-fast recipe of meat mixture. Needless to say, such regulations are too restrictive and abhorrently illogical.

It may also be mentioned here that for food safety, consumers usually rely on the government to ensure that all food products are safe. To achieve this objective, the food safety authority must compel packaged-food manufacturers and beverage producers to duly label their products and give complete information about the ingredients used in the product. Regular collaboration and coordination among stakeholders will ensure effective implementation and enforcement of food safety standards across the country.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, September 14th, 2020