Nigeria, ECOWAS Member States Unite on Food Safety

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By James Emejo in Abuja

Nigeria, alongside member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have formed a common ground against indiscriminate dumping of harmful food products mostly from the European Union and China.

Also, members unanimously resolved to implement standards that would ensure that agricultural produce from members countries are not rejected by foreign trade partners especially the EU.

The position of the regional member countries was made known at a workshop in Abuja, ahead of the 39th session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) conference billed for June 27 to July 1, 2016 in Rome, Italy, where they are expected to participate and make consultations on critical issues affecting the sub-region.

Speaking at the meeting, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh said the workshop was not only apt but also necessary in ensuring the continuous development of essential mechanisms for consultation on issues of common interest at the regional level and for resolutions to be defended with one voice at the sessions of CAC and its organs.

According to him, Codex had a twin objective of developing standards for protecting consumer Health and ensuring fair practices in international food trade.

He said his ministry fully supported ECOWAS initiative to establish a network of actors to develop sustainable synergy of actions in the field and better protect the interest of member countries.

He said for economic development, it was important for developing countries to have adequate access to major markets for food, agricultural and other products adding that such exports, however, needed to comply often with strict standards on food safety, animal and plant health which are collectively known as “SPS measure”.

He warned that lowering standards was counterproductive and often fails to meet the needs of consumers.

However, the acting Director General, Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Dr. Paul Angya said members countries were seeking to ironed out differences and speak with one voice at the global food standards conference in Rome.

He noted that the workshop in Abuja had become imperative following the increasing rate of rejection of agric produce from the region in the international market partly because they often failed to meet global standards.

The gathering also aimed at uniformly canvassing an end to the practicing of food dumping.

Angya, who was represented at the regional meeting by the Director, Business Support Services, SON, Mrs. Margaret Eshiette, said before now, the West African countries would go to the annual global event only to speak based only individual strength on matters affecting the region, and often times, not achieving meaning results.

The workshop attended by representatives of food standards and safety regulatory authorities under the aegis of the sanitary and phyto-sanitary and food safety group from the respective countries is expected to shape the contributions of ECOWAS member states in Rome.

According to the acting SON boss, the workshop will further deliberate on issues around agricultural products and how they could be made competitive for exports and set standards to reduce their rate of rejection by foreign countries particularly, the European Union.

Meanwhile, Head, Agriculture Division, ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Earnest Aubee, said the lack of SPS and food safety regulations and policy in some ECOWAS member states had been a barrier to making agricultural products from the region less competitive in the international market, thereby reducing opportunities for employment and revenue generation in affected countries.

He said members must take a firm position to implement existing regulations on food safety as failure would amount to opening their doors to harmful food which would endanger the lives of citizens.

However, the workshop is expected to among other things, come up with a regional position on agenda items to be discussed at the 39th session of CAC.