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County is considering Bill on food safety

Nakuru County Government is working on a Bill that seeks to protect humans and livestock from consuming foodstuffs and animal feeds contaminated with toxic substances, antibiotic residues and disease vectors.

The County Public Health Chief Officer, Ms. Alice Abuku, said they were crafting a new food safety policy that provides for stringent regulations to ensure foodstuffs that fail to meet safety standards do not reach the market.

Ms. Abuku explained that the main objective of the ‘Nakuru County Food Safety Policy’ and ‘The Nakuru County Food and Feed Safety Quality Control Coordination Bill 2022’ was to protect consumers of food products from foodborne illnesses or injuries related to food consumption.

Ms. Abuki stated at the county headquarters during a workshop that brought together various stakeholders to deliberate on the policy and the Bill that chemical and organic contaminants in food products could be partly to blame for the increase in cancer cases.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that foodborne diseases are responsible for a comparable burden of illness, such as cancer and tuberculosis, in Africa, with young children bearing the brunt of it.

WHO further indicates that the resulting health cost implications and threat to productivity are incapacitating. If assented to, ‘The Nakuru County Food and Feed Safety Quality Control Coordination Bill 2022’ will ensure that there is thorough scrutiny of milk, meat, vegetables, and fruits’ suppliers to ascertain the safety of their produce.

Manufacturers of animal feeds will also be closely monitored to ensure that they comply with feed safety standards in their processes.

The Public Health Officer said that the Bill is necessary to ensure that food is safely produced, distributed, processed, marketed, and prepared for human consumption from the farm.

The Bill also provides for the coordination of competent authorities, multi-annual control plans, verification of mechanisms utilised by competent authorities to enforce food and feed safety requirements, and audits of food safety or feed safety mechanisms.

The two-day event organised by Micro-Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT) in collaboration with the County government drew participants from the Departments of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Public Health, Trade, Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Kenya National Federation of Farmers (KENAFF), Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), and the County Assembly of Nakuru, among others.

While noting that food safety is inherently a public good, Ms. Abuki observed that the county and national government alone would not address the issue as it is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders: farmers, food handlers and distributors, food manufacturers, food service operators, consumers, regulators, scientists, educators, and the media.

Ms. Abuki indicated that well-informed and empowered consumers not only protected their own interests but also benefitted the wider market by enforcing market discipline, which encouraged producers to compete on the basis of the quality of their goods.

Chief Officer for Agriculture, Mr. Newton Mwaura, said Governor Susan Kihika’s administration has been empowering and encouraging farmers to apply Good Agricultural Practices because investment in food safety practices has enabled them to tap more lucrative markets.

He stated that they were providing both farmers and consumers with food safety information through public awareness and field days to enable them to become agents through their actions.

Mwaura observed that public-private partnerships could also serve as an avenue for addressing food safety, with the public sector investing in food safety infrastructure to lower the barriers to entry for the private sector.

An informed private and public sector, he added, will provide a self-checking, self-sustaining, and robust food safety system.

He pointed out that food safety failures could potentially impose costs on producers and the entire food supply chain. For instance, he explained, affected businesses might incur costs in recalling products or face a loss of market access in both domestic and foreign markets.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), food security is only achieved when people have access to, among others, safe and nutritious food that is necessary for a healthy life.

The Nakuru County Food and Feed Safety Quality Control Coordination Bill 2022 also provides for traceability requirements, reference laboratories for purposes of official control, the submission of reports on food safety and feed safety to the County authorities, the appointment of compliance officers, and the powers of compliance officers.

Experts at the forum indicated that, based on research, 70 per cent of antibiotics have lost their effectiveness due to the fact that consumers find traces of them in milk and meat products.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, 1 in 10 people in the world fall ill after eating contaminated food, and around 420,000 die each year.

By Esther Mwangi

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