All countries in Africa have food standards, Dr. Anelich points out, but they range from very few and rudimentary standards to antiquated standards developed during colonial times to more modern standards reflecting the spirit of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC).
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Explore This IssueFebruary/March 2015
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Consequently, projects exist within Regional Economic Communities to harmonize existing food standards, Dr. Anelich relates. “However, many existing food standards are not based on scientific principles as per the WTO Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures and the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreements (SPS and TBT),” she says. “Rather, these may be either too lenient, allowing for easier importation of unsafe foods into those countries, which may pose a risk to human health, or the standards may be stricter than Codex standards, which may then constitute a barrier to trade (as per the WTO Agreements) if the stricter standards are not scientifically justifiable. Because of all this, it is clear that further development of science-based food standards is required.”
For this to occur, Dr. Anelich says, capacity building is required in those African countries that do not possess scientific expertise relative to conducting risk assessments and incorporating the results of those risk assessments into appropriate food standards.
Easier said than done. Capacity building will require political will as a first step, followed by policy development and long-term strategies for maintaining that capacity in a particular country.
“This is vital to enable effective participation in relevant regional and international forums such as the Regional Economic Communities and the CAC, respectively,” Dr. Anelich emphasizes. “These developments should, however, go hand in hand with harmonization of food standards at regional and international levels, in order to facilitate trade.”
Most countries in Africa are members of the CAC and WTO. “It therefore follows that Codex Alimentarius standards are the minimum standards that these countries should comply with,” Dr. Anelich continues, “not only for conducting international and regional trade, but also for providing safe and nutritious domestic food. To that end, Africa is in this development trajectory.”
As part of its capacity building program, the AU has set up a number of expert committees that “mirror” certain Codex committees. “These consist of experts within that field that meet once per annum in Nairobi at the AU-Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources offices and develop a response document to the items on the Codex committee agenda,” Dr. Anelich relates. “This document becomes a common African position that is then sent to all the National Codex Contact Points in Africa for those countries to use as a response to that Codex committee. This is certainly bearing fruits, as we are seeing more meaningful participation from African countries in Codex meetings.”
Dr. Anelich, a microbiologist, serves on the AU’s Food Hygiene Expert Committee. Other expert committees include Food Contaminants; Food Additives; Food Labeling; Pesticide Residues; Nutrition and Food for Special Dietary Uses; Residues of Veterinary Drugs in Food, Fish and Fisheries Products; and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. New proposals for expert committees are Food Import and Export Inspection and Certification Systems; and Methods of Analysis and Sampling.
In addition, says Dr. Anelich, large countries and blocks such as the U.S. and the European Union (EU) are now wishing to have discussions with African delegates the day prior to the Codex meetings to discuss various matters on the agenda. “This level of interest in African positions was not apparent before this program started a few years ago,” she notes.
The AU is currently spearheading an African food safety authority. In early stages of development, the initiative is projected to set safety standards for and monitor the African food supply, much like the European Food Safety Authority does for EU member states. In October 2014, organizers met to investigate developing a Rapid Alert System with the following objectives: 1.) Quick exchange of information about food and feed-related risks to ensure coherent and simultaneous actions by all network members with the view of protecting consumer health from eminent public health risk, and 2.) Contributing to economic development by maintaining consumer confidence in the food system and providing a sound regulatory foundation for trade in food.
What About HACCP?
“Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) programs are implemented in many countries, particularly amongst multi-national companies operating in African countries,” Dr. Anelich says. “However this is not necessarily the case with small domestic businesses and even larger, less-developed domestic businesses. HACCP-based systems are implemented widely in South Africa and South Africa has the most companies certified to HACCP-based systems by third-party audits from accredited certification bodies than any other country in Africa.”