A project on food safety in Bangladesh has improved the situation but gaps still remain, according to an evaluation document.

The report covers efforts from 2013 to 2019 in Bangladesh, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). It was designed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with the Ministry of Food in Bangladesh.

The main recommendation is for FAO to support BFSA in doing a self-assessment of the food control system in Bangladesh to identify priority areas for improvement. There is also a risk some of the main achievements won’t last, according to the evaluation.

In 2013, the Government of Bangladesh passed the Bangladesh Food Safety Act and the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) was founded in 2015.

Devastating situation
Project aims were to support the newly established authority; assist the revision of food regulations, rules and standards to increase coherence; improve coordination among the different agencies and ministries involved in food safety; and support the development of a third-party verification/inspection system.

The food safety situation in Bangladesh was described as “devastating” in the report. However, no studies have been conducted in the country to quantify the public health burden of foodborne disease. If World Health Organization (WHO) estimates for the Southeast Asia region in 2010 are applied to Bangladesh, there would be more than 12 million illnesses and 14,000 deaths per year.

Bangladesh has the ability to export various food products but has not been able to fully leverage this potential partly due to the weakness of its food safety system and food standards.

Advances were made in raising awareness of food safety as a shared responsibility between public services, food businesses and consumers and a strong drive to adopt an integrated farm-to-fork approach in the poultry and mango sectors was created.

However, while the project provided support for implementation of a risk-based inspection approach, it did not address the development of data collection and processing skills, risk ranking and risk assessment tools or integrate the principles of risk analysis used in food safety systems.

Training and testing
A risk-based inspection or control policy is not yet feasible due to the lack of industry information and absence of a risk assessment for the major biological and chemical hazards in Bangladesh, as well as the lack of staff with related experience.

A large number of people were trained but sometimes the limited duration did not lead to a significant increase in participants’ skills. A survey sent to inspectors who took part in training showed that many of them did not master some of the basic concepts of risk-based inspection.

The BFSA is considering developing a food contamination monitoring plan to help determine priorities but is struggling with capacity issues.

Food safety testing capacity remains a weak element of the food control system in Bangladesh and coordination of laboratory activities is inadequate, as they are not properly geared towards generating data suitable for risk assessments.

USAID has funded another project, from 2020 to 2024, working with BFSA on capacity development and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has signed an agreement with the Government of Bangladesh on a project to enhance food safety control systems through strengthening the inspection, regulatory and coordinating function of BFSA.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)