The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations are working to help improve the food safety system in Belarus.

Governmental representatives met for five days of talks in Minsk earlier this month to conclude a previous project and set priorities for future work. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is attempting to understand the food safety structures and needs for modernization in Belarus.

The agency is ensuring food is safe to consume – whether products are local or foreign or for the domestic or export market.

Belarus requested FAO’s technical support to strengthen official laboratories’ capacities in using up-to-date methods of detection and analysis in line with international standards. The government intends to strengthen abilities in food safety risk assessment, science-based standard setting, import and export inspection and certification.

“Based on the findings and the feedback from national authorities, we now have a set of focus areas on which we will work together to improve,” said Mary Kenny, FAO food safety and consumer protection officer.

The country and the UN agency signed a four year cooperation agreement last year with agriculture being one of the sectors focused on. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Health are the main agencies in Belarus with other governmental bodies such as the State Veterinary Service.

Agriculture and food production are key sectors in the country with the Russian Federation being an important export market for Belarusian food products. The agricultural sector accounts for 8 percent to 9 percent of total employment in Belarus.

Certain items, including dairy products, honey, fish and gelatin, are allowed to enter the European market, but meat exports are not permitted.

Belarus is also targeting accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), which requires negotiations on sanitary and phytosanitary issues and requirements.

A workshop organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus in January this year was the 11th in a series on the subject. Participants heard there was a “high probability” that Belarus would join the WTO within two years.

A few years ago, an International Finance Corp. (IFC) project helped boost competitiveness of food producers in the country as well as those in Georgia and Ukraine.

Few Belarusian companies have food safety management systems in place or the ability to respond to food safety threats, according to the agency.

The sister organization of the World Bank said financial institutions increased investments in IFC client companies in Belarus, Georgia and Ukraine by $157 million due to better food safety.

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