Food is a big part of the current political upheaval in Ukraine. As the world’s third-largest wheat exporter, the news from Kiev has already roiled the Chicago Board of Trade, and Russian threats to block imports from Ukraine are ratcheting up tensions.
Much more in the background, but every bit as important to Ukraine’s future, are improvements in food safety that were under way before recent events. Outdated food safety practices are seen as holding Ukraine back from investments and in exports.
Improving Ukraine’s food safety is the goal of a project by the World Bank Group’s International
Finance Corporation. Food Safety News (FSN) wanted to find out if Ukraine’s regime change might mean a delay or an end to those reforms.
It was only three months ago that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said it was “impossible to delay” improving Ukraine’s food safety by making the state control system adhere to the standards of the European Union. He fled in recent days to Russia and still claims to be Ukraine’s president.
For some perspective on the future of food safety in Ukraine, we turned to IFC officials with experience in that country. Sarah Ockman, who recently moved to Serbia from Kiev, put us in touch with Oleana Harmash and Eugeniu Osmochescu, who remain in Kiev. Osmochescu, who has a law degree from Moldova State University, responded to our questions. He heads the IFC’s Investment Climate in Agribusiness Advisory project in Ukraine.
FSN: How far did changes in the food safety system get before the current change in government?
Osmochescu: “The draft law on food safety was a key pillar of the food safety reform in Ukraine. It proposed a comprehensive change of the current system. The draft, which was worked out with support from IFC, was based on international best practices and intended to harmonize the Ukrainian food safety legislation with the EU requirements.
“The law was preliminarily approved by the government and submitted to the parliament back in August 2013, but the draft law was never considered or voted on by the parliament. After the government resigned, in line with Ukrainian legal procedures, the draft law was revoked from the parliament.
“That said, working on the draft law on food safety to have it adopted in the parliament was not the only activity aimed at streamlining the food safety system. The broader work that aimed at incremental changes to the system was also taking place in parallel. Among these was opening of the European markets for Ukrainian poultry producers.
“Ukraine’s poultry exports soared by 80 percent in 2013 over 2012. Poultry production in Ukraine grew by 12.4 percent to 975.7 tons of slaughtered volume in 2013 – 15 percent of which was exported, according to the data provided by the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club.
“A similar approach is now being considered by dairy producers that would like to improve the knowledge and understanding of their staff and also veterinary inspectors about EU requirements for dairy products with a view of getting approval from the EU to export. At the same time, checklists are planned for development in line with EU requirements to ensure local veterinary inspectors have the tools to check for compliance.”
FSN: And involving the private sector?
Osmochescu: “The government jointly with the private sector was working to promote food safety principles based on HACCP. Thus, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy of Ukraine adopted a legal guidance on food safety requirements in October 2013. The work on legislation was actively supported by in-depth advisory to companies and educational campaigns for the entire sector. This was done by IFC’s advisory teams in partnership with the Austrian Ministry of Finance.
“Adoption of the guidance was a small but important victory for food safety reform in Ukraine. It was the first time that requirements for HACCP have been consolidated and structured in one official document. This will ensure that both businesses and inspectorates share a common understanding of what is to be checked. In addition, the guidance will also help protect businesses from abuse of power by state inspectors.
“In addition to this, in October 2013 the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine enacted a decree according to which an action plan on a phased implementation of processes and procedures that ensure food safety based on HACCP principles. The action plan proposes a step-by-step process to be followed by the Veterinary and Phytosanitary Service in overseeing and ensuring implementation of food safety principles based on HACCP by food producers.
“In September 2013, the Law of Ukraine on Amendments to Certain Legal Acts on Reducing the List of Permits to be Obtained by Food Business Operators was enacted. The law cancels permits for attestation of milk, raw milk and dairy products production; attestation of fish-processing facilities; quality certificate of fish and aquaculture products manufacturing; certificate on sanitary and technical conditions of manufacturing and labor safety for tobacco and alcoholic drinks producers; compulsory certification of exported apiculture products. In addition, the law amended certain laws that legally implement cancellation of compulsory certification of foodstuff (which was de facto cancelled in 2011) and made HACCP mandatory for fish processors.”
FSN: Are food safety officials on the job currently? Has their work been interrupted in any way (by the political upheaval)?
Osmochescu: “Ukrainian parliament voted today to appoint a new government. A new minister for agriculture was appointed. His name is Igor Shvaika (a lawmaker from the “Svoboda” party). It is a new face for the sector. We will have to see what would be his first steps and whether mid-level and technical specialists who had been driving the food reform process would remain.
FSN: Will reform/change likely continue?
Osmochescu: “The reform will indeed continue. The newly appointed government has announced already plans for closer ties with EU, and food safety reform would be an important step forward to open new EU markets for Ukrainian producers. There is a mutual desire of both the public and private sectors to change the current food safety system and align it with the EU. Now that the turmoil seems to be subsiding, all involved stakeholders are going to resume discussions on specific steps in this direction.”© Food Safety News