Food Safety

In many countries small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute a great portion of the economy and this is especially the case for food service industry.  Since HACCP is an uncompromising, demanding and exacting quality assurance concept it is unfair to expect SMEs to implement it straight away without actually assessing their ability to do so. In addition SMEs may also be keen to ascertain tangible and immediate returns that accrue by investing in HACCP. If HACCP needs to be introduced and sustained in the long run in SMEs, especially in the developing countries, it is imperative to thoroughly understand the level of consumer participation, prevailing business culture and the policy support and direction.

All new and promising concepts including HACCP have a greater chance of adoption when the benefits are quantified and presented in monetary terms. As business basically revolves around money no amount of persuasion by harping upon social responsibility, statutory obligation and public health would succeed in convincing the SMEs to implement HACCP. This means HACCP campaigns with a judicious mix of technical and financial advantages can penetrate SMEs at a faster rate than the conventional ones. A coherent and proactive policy is perhaps the most critical factor that separates the success of HACCP from failure. The government’s commitment sends the right signals to the food industry about the implementation of HACCP.

Export-focused policy is one of the main reasons for slow adoption of HACCP in SMEs. Since most of them are not involved in food exports directly, they have never felt the need and urgency to implement HACCP. Soft-pedaling by the policymakers has also not contributed to HACCP’s cause. Emphasis on voluntary compliance has not paid rich dividends so far and it seems the time has come to look for hard options such as coming out with a definite time frame for compliance. Punitive action for defaulting units may also have the desirable effect in the food industry.

At present, in countries like India, 50 percent of HACCP implementation costs, subject to a maximum of one million rupees, are being offered as a grant for interested food enterprises irrespective of their size. Keeping in view the large number of food processing units operating at home, small and cottage level it is worthwhile to enhance this assistance to 75 percent. However this enhancement will be implemented with a provision of mandatory compliance in the specified time period. Involving banks and other developmental agencies in a big way to extend soft loans for HACCP implementation may also encourage many SMEs to come forward voluntarily.

The multiplicity of agencies and their conflicting interests have resulted in either confusion or lack of action. Since HACCP revolves around a wide spectrum of activities such as health, agriculture, food processing, trade, exports, etc., agencies responsible for these sectors are either claiming complete authority over HACCP or passing the entire buck to others resulting in slow progress of HACCP implementation. An exclusive agency to monitor the implementation of HACCP in the food industry may yield better results rather than cobbling a loose mechanism by drawing people from different agencies. The success story of Thailand is an excellent example for developing countries in the region to follow in order to effectively implement HACCP. It has started working on HACCP since the early 1990s and emerged as one of the leading exporters of seafood to developed countries from the Asia- Pacific region.

Another area that requires immediate policy intervention is food legislation. Many developing countries, especially in the South Asian region, are still grappling with a legislative approach that is predominantly curative. Food legislation in these countries has yet to catch up with the latest developments, with modern quality and safety concepts such as GMP and HACCP missing from them. This situation is not conducive for promoting a preventive approach to food safety. Minimum requirements prescribed in many cases are below Codex standards and arrived at as a compromise for taking shelter under the prevailing manufacturing and technological capabilities. Needless to say proactive food legislation is essential for the success of HACCP and there is a need for immediate policy reorientation in this regard.

The policy of voluntary compliance without a specific time frame has not yielded desirable results so far in many countries of the region. Keeping in view the rise in food- borne diseases and the subsequent strain on budgetary resources to control them, it is prudent to make HACCP compliance mandatory for SMEs in a phased manner but within a specific time frame. This move, apart from contributing to the overall improvement of food safety and hygiene, helps harmonization with global standards, gradually resulting in trade benefits. This suggestion may sound a little bit harsh in the context of the fragile nature of SMEs operating in the food sector but in the overall interest of consumer health and the beckoning export opportunities, SMEs may have to take this bitter pill sooner or later.

Apart from providing funds for implementing HACCP in SMEs, there is also a need to create mass awareness through different media for the benefit of consumers. A well- informed and demanding consumer in turn would act as a catalyst for increasing the pace of HACCP adoption by the SMEs. Lack of awareness about HACCP and its impending benefits is impeding HACCP propagation and this could only be overcome with adequate budget allocation for innovative publicity campaigns. The ultimate aim of this strategy is to make the food industry use HACCP as a trump card in their marketing campaigns. Hence mass publicity shall form an integral part of any HACCP policy in the developing countries for its success among SMEs.

Recognition and rewards act as great stimuli for entrepreneurs to strive for excellence. Instituting national level awards for promoting and implementing HACCP in an exemplary manner may provide the much-needed momentum for HACCP campaigns in developing countries. Already some member countries like India are implementing similar schemes for promoting productivity in industry, agriculture and service sectors with considerable success. Similar efforts specifically targeting HACCP in SMEs may yield tangible benefits. If launching exclusive recognition schemes is not possible for some reason, HACCP implementation should find a prominent place in the performance appraisal of SMEs operating in the food sector.

Shortage of adequate trained personnel to assist SMEs is also hindering the progress of HACCP implementation in many countries. There is a need to formulate a policy to encourage SMEs to train their personnel in various aspects of HACCP. In addition, institutions involved in producing food technologists and food engineers have to include HACCP in their curricula to meet the shortage of personnel. Engagement of foreign consultants should also be encouraged to keep pace with the latest developments in the west on a selective basis. Since these consultants come with a price tag and usually beyond the reach of SMEs, it is necessary to convince the concerned governments to extend these services under bilateral assistance programs. Attracting international agencies like UNIDO, WHO and FAO in a big way may also help the cause of SMEs in expediting the implementation of HACCP.

Policies can succeed only when they are made after a thorough understanding of the basic realities and as such a reliable database about various aspects of HACCP implementation at national level is essential. Unfortunately enough attention has not been paid towards this issue so far and it is time to concentrate on developing national as well as regional HACCP databases, with emphasis on SMEs. Organizations like APO which have a tradition of conducting periodic surveys on important topics in the member countries can play a leading role in this regard. This will help not only in conducting objective comparative analysis but also in duplicating success stories among different countries of the region.

To conclude, it is important to note that HACCP policies formulated without proper understanding of business culture and the level of consumer awareness are bound to encounter roadblocks sooner or later. Before launching large-scale HACCP campaigns it is necessary to prepare SMEs mentally by explaining the inevitability of HACCP adoption not only for growth but also for survival. A business plan that justifies the investment on HACCP in clear monetary terms is the best way to convince SMEs to adopt HACCP. Exerting pressure through consumers is another way of increasing the pace of HACCP implementation among SMEs. A dual HACCP approach emphasizing exports may not succeed in the long run, especially in the open market era.

 

Reference: Quality Enhancement in Food Processing Through HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) ©APO 2004, ISBN: 92-833-7041-4

 

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