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Singapore's food safety standards still world-class

By 938LIVE/ Channel NewsAsia
22 August 2008 2113 hrs

SINGAPORE: Singapore's food safety standards continue to be world-class, according to a high-level panel of foreign experts who have completed a review of the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

They said AVA has done well in using a science-based method of sourcing for food from markets with health risks, instead of slapping a blanket ban on such markets.

Dr Gardner Murray, who chairs the international advisory committee of experts, explained the benefits of Singapore's approach on Friday.

He said: "When one talks about zero tolerance, it's effectively saying 'no' – you feel a country may not be able to safely send you food, that is zero tolerance. But, if you're reliant on food for imports, you've got to look further than that and increase your source of supply.

"The way to do this is to use a science basis for making decisions on imports. It doesn't mean your standards of food safety decrease. In fact, because you're being scientific, the food safety risk minimises."

For example, Singapore continues to buy pork from Brazilian farms that are billed safe, even though the hand, foot and mouth disease is widespread there.

The panel also praised AVA's efforts to keep out bird flu within the region by creating a control zone in Kepri, a nearby Indonesian province.

"If you want to manage risk, you need to think about the sources of introduction of disease and one source could be neighbouring countries. And if there's difference with respect to the efficiency or the veterinary service, it's actually quite useful rather than build up a fortress for Singapore where you have a big wall around you," said panel member, Professor Dirk Pfeiffer.

Still, Dr Murray said there are areas Singapore can strengthen.

He said: "A key initiative that we see as important is developing intelligence networks within the region and globally - on food safety, animal and plant health issues - so that all this data can be brought together to enable improved analysis of risk and this will enhance food safety and biosecurity in Singapore."

The experts also said AVA should beef up its staff competencies through training and enhance its strategies to deal with food-borne diseases.