PH to focus on food safety amid pandemic

By Ma. Cristina Arayata

November 2, 2021, 8:13 pm

MANILA – Food safety is among the Department of Science and Technology's (DOST) priorities amid the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said on Tuesday.

"With the pandemic that caught almost everyone unprepared, access to food became a preoccupation, and many started to produce their own food such as (through) urban gardening and came up with innovations to have food on the table," he said in a Viber message.

He added that he noticed on social media posts that many have become "chefs". De la Peña noted that being able to produce food is not the only thing important in these challenging times. "We also have to make sure that the food we have is safe and healthy."

The DOST's food safety roadmap from 2017-2022 has been focusing on research and development (R&D) food programs; enhancement of testing capabilities; human resource development; and knowledge, technology transfer and policy advocacy.

De la Peña said that with the shared responsibility of all the stakeholders in the food chain -- from production, postharvest, processing, distribution, to consumption -- the implementation of the Integrated Food Safety Program has resulted in increased compliance and implementation of food safety standards and regulations.

Over 648 micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the food sector were assisted and are now compliant with food safety standards.

The program also looked into food-borne diseases and knowledge gaps on food safety. At least 227 DOST food safety team members and laboratory analysts were trained to ensure continuous delivery of food safety assistance and interventions to food industry players.

The agency has also developed unified food safety modules which were deployed to its regional offices, as well as enhanced food safety testing services that were integrated and promoted under the OneLab network.

According to de la Peña, close to PHP3 billion has been allocated for the five-year program.

Last October 29, DOST Undersecretary Rowena Guevara reported that the agency eyes investing PHP2.5 billion for food safety initiatives from 2022 to 2028 to guarantee safe food for everyone through science, technology and innovation.

"For the R&D, we will focus on the Integrated Food Safety R&D program which we envision will support the following: risk assessment studies to support national risk management; food industry by facilitating compliance with food safety guidelines and regulations; food testing of microbiological and chemical hazards; and the establishment of food safety R&D hubs," Guevara said in a webinar.

Among the problems that the R&D program would address are food-borne diseases, product detentions, inadequate technical support for MSMEs, knowledge gap on food safety, food supply and lack of science-based evidence for food safety policies and guidelines.

As for the human resource development, Guevara said the DOST will conduct competency-based training program for food safety team members, R&D personnel, lab analysts, as well as local government units (LGUs). Development of food safety training modules and a massive open online course on food safety are also being eyed.

Emphasizing that food safety is a shared responsibility and everyone’s business, Guevara mentioned that the DOST will explore and establish more collaborations and scientific cooperation with international agencies to help them achieve their plans.

Last October 25, the DOST inked a memorandum of understanding with the Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (SCE) for scientific and technological cooperation.

Both parties commit to carry out joint scientific and technological activities with relevant public sector and/or private enterprises on the areas of water and waste management, food safety and security, aquaculture, digital governance; and other areas that they may mutually agree on.

A joint committee meeting between DOST and SCE will be convened to prioritize specific areas and modes of implementation of the MOU. (PNA)