SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA (8 September 2017) — Agriculture ministers in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) today endorsed a 5-year strategy and action plan to build a region-wide food safety system. The system will be based on mutually recognized, science-based standards, product tracing, and information sharing, especially on hazard lists for key commodities.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) hosts the Secretariat of the GMS, which comprises Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China (specifically, Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), the Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
“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, Cambodia’s 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. Food-borne illness outbreaks in GMS resulted from the presence of melamine in the PRC and antibiotic and hormone residues in livestock and fishery products in Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam.
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. Specifically, the institution will help countries improve food safety infrastructure and establish the regulatory frameworks for common risk assessment, risk management, and information sharing.
“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,” said Mr. Subramaniam. “We look forward to working with GMS to help countries harness the already strong commitment in each country and boost trust among consumers, retailers, potential trading partners, and other stakeholders.”
The meeting for GMS agriculture ministers, the second in a decade, also included a public-private dialogue cosponsored by the Food Industry Asia. Participants agreed that the public and private sectors and nongovernment organizations should work together to harmonize food safety standards. Public-private collaborations are planned to upgrade technical skills on food control systems and standards.
The meeting also showcased an array of safe and sustainably produced agriculture and food products in the GMS, such as a prahok fish paste processing site in Cambodia and agro-environment tourism hotspots in the region.
ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, ADB is celebrating 50 years of development partnership in the region. It is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2016, ADB assistance totaled $31.7 billion, including $14 billion in co-financing.