GMS ministers endorse strategy to boost food safety in Mekong

8 September 2017 Cambodia

PHNOM PENH - Agriculture ministers in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) endorsed a five-year strategy and action plan to build a regional food safety system on Friday during a meeting in northwest Cambodia's Siem Reap province.

The system will be based on mutually recognized, science-based standards, product tracing and information sharing, especially on hazard lists for key commodities, said the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which organized the meeting.

The ADB hosted the Secretariat of the GMS, which comprises Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

"The 2018-2022 GMS Strategy and Siem Reap Action Plan will help us become a leading supplier of safe and environment-friendly agricultural products," said Veng Sakhon, Cambodian Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries.

"It is a clear testimony of our commitment to contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals by ensuring that food safety, like food security, is a human right for all."

According to 2015 data from the World Health Organization, almost one in 10 people fall ill every year from eating contaminated food, of which 420,000 die as a result. This is particularly acute in Africa and Southeast Asia, which registered the highest incidence of food-borne illnesses.

The statement added that most GMS countries have adopted food safety regulations, but many areas are hampered by limited infrastructure and institutional capacity to undertake effective food control.

Ramesh Subramaniam, director general of ADB's Southeast Asia Department, said ADB will provide investments and technical assistance to help GMS countries build safe and sustainable food systems.

"With the GMS countries' shared borders and increasingly connected agriculture supply chains, they are well-positioned to supply safe and quality food with reduced environment footprint to its Southeast Asian neighbors and the world," he said.

The meeting for GMS agriculture ministers, the second in a decade, also included a public-private dialogue, the statement said, adding that participants agreed that the public and private sectors and non-governmental organizations should work together to harmonize food safety standards.