The European Union has launched an initiative to improve food safety standards in developing countries in order to increase their trading capacity and ultimately reduce poverty rates.

EDES, the program created to carry out this initiative, was given 29.5 million Euros to work with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States to make sure the food they produce meets current EU food safety standards.

Those standards were made more rigorous by a 2004 EU regulation that outlined the organization of food safety systems in Europe.  Part of the regulation stipulates that any party exporting food to the EU must align itself with EU food safety standards.

Over the next four years, EDES and a consortium of experts in the European food safety industry will work with food producers and regulators in ACP countries to bring their food safety standards into compliance with those of the EU.

“There’s a notion that if your trade partner has a food system you trust, you’re more likely to buy from him,” says EDES Director Renaud Guillonnet.

With the capacity to trade more, ACP countries should then be able to expand economically, and thereby alleviate poverty within their borders.

This expansion is expected to take place in markets beyond just those of Europe.  Guillonnet says better food safety could make ACP countries more viable trading partners with the U.S., Japan, and other nations.  It could also increase confidence in local products among regional consumers.

How does EDES hope to affect this change in food safety?  Guillonnet explains that the program uses a bottom-up approach.  Instead of coming into countries and enforcing new food safety regulations, it makes sure the motivation for improved food safety comes from the country itself.

“It’s up to ACP countries to raise their hands and say, ‘Hey, we need you here,’ ” he says.
Once a country expresses an interest in the program, EDES analyzes where local food producers are in terms of food safety and where they need to be in order to sell to a wider market.  EDES representatives then train local experts in order to create a permanent food safety control system in the region.

“This is something we want to leave behind, because when the program isn’t there anymore, we want to have experts who know the problems they face and know what do,” says Guillonnet.

And these experts will be equipped with the newest, most effective methods in food safety, the EU says.  EDES is part of what Guillonnet calls “a public-private consortium with major players of food safety in Europe,” and is run by COLEACP, an EU-ACP alliance that has been working to facilitate fruit and vegetable trade flows between the two regions for the past 8 years.

The EDES program will allow these “major players” to provide their resources to small producers in ACP countries, producers that can be as small as one family, Guillonnet says. EDES provides these smaller producers with a vehicle for selling their goods by connecting them with larger companies with whom EDES works to raise their food safety standards.

Food safety needs vary from country to country. ,Some of the more common food safety issues in ACP countries include heavy metals in fish, diseases in plants, and bacteria in meat.

Once a country has identified its problem areas, Guillonnet says, EDES experts provide technical assistance, inspection expertise, and legal advice, among other tools to develop a safer food system.

EDES is open to all 79 ACP countries.  It began work in March of 2010 and is currently piloting programs in a handful of these states.  Guillonnet says it hopes to expand to as many other ACP countries as possible in the future.

For more information on EDES, visit the program website.