An inability of some countries to meet food safety standards of other nations and the associated border rejections contribute to food loss and waste, according to an expert policy brief.

The G20 is a forum of 19 countries and the European Union that address economic issues. It has a role in coordinating countries’ exchange of information related to standards and regulations on food traded internationally.

The G20 Insights Platform is an initiative of the Think20 network, which are think tanks that offer policy proposals to the G20. Think20 is part of the Global Solutions Initiative.

The policy brief by IPB University in Indonesia proposes three initiatives. First, at domestic level, it is important to invest in quality and food safety controls before produce is exported.

Second, a global clearing house of information among trading partners of non-tariff measure-related procedures needs to be established by developing national trade portals and creating help desk services operated by governments in both exporting and importing countries. Third, there is a need to strengthen international agreements on the exchange of information concerning food safety standards that help mitigate the risks of rejection by importing countries.

Get it right locally
The root cause of rejection by importing countries often concerns food safety issues. Blocked commodities include fish, vegetables, fruit, meat and meat products, cereals, and bakery products.

The amount of food rejected by importing countries globally reached 649,000 tons with a value of nearly $1.13 billion annually, according to the brief.

Special conditions may be imposed by importers on the countries of origin of refused products. These may become barriers to trade that increase the refusals and decrease product values, which eventually contributes to food loss. Refused products may be re-imported to the origin country and fixed, sold locally, converted into feed or destroyed.

The first proposal refers to the agri-food value chain domestically. Factors associated with pre-harvest food loss include product damage due to factors such as pests and microbiological contamination, chemicals, and physical issues like poor handling or treatment due to a lack of appropriate post-harvest technologies.

Gaps in infrastructure and facilities including cold storage are still a problem, particularly in remote areas. Increasing imports from developing countries in which many of them have not created extensive food standards contributes to rejections in importing countries.

Actors along the supply chain at domestic level need to increase the quality control and food safety handling for food products by improving export infrastructures including landing facilities, cold chain management systems and laboratories. It is also important to strengthen the capacity to implement best practices, such as Good Handling Practices (GHP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), according to the brief.

Tackling issue of differing standards
The inability to comply with food safety standards set by importing countries, with the main objective being to protect domestic consumers, poses another challenge.

Each country has its own level of standards and usually developed nations apply more stringent standards than developing countries. This is exacerbated by the absence of institutions that help and supervise exporters to meet standards set by other countries. The difference in use of technology between developed and developing countries in export and import activities has the potential to increase rejection cases.

To reduce the rejection rate of food products in international trade, researchers suggested export facilitating measures via digitalization, increasing transparency of national trade portals by electronic phytosanitary certificates and establishing help desk services that provide information related to regulations in the exporting countries.

The third proposal states that to reduce the volume of rejected food, cooperation among trading partner countries should be strengthened by applying international standards, such as those from Codex Alimentarius. However, some guidelines only address the problem after traded food has been rejected and do not provide mitigation measures to reduce the issue from occurring.

One risk that needs mitigating is the slow notification of newly updated regulations on food safety standards in importing countries. Often it takes too long to notify changes in regulation to exporting countries. To mitigate this risk, it is important to improve information exchange. Risk can also be mitigated by developing forums for discussing new methods and technology of food safety assurance implemented in importing countries.

Standardization of best practices in the handling of rejected imported food can reduce loss and waste. Instead of automatically discarding all rejected food, it could be downgraded and treated as low quality food or feed without compromising safety.

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