In the face of a pandemic, the Public Health Service will focus on food safety.
Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said on Tuesday that food safety is one of the Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST) top priorities in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) epidemic.
“With the pandemic that caught practically everyone off guard, food became a priority, and many began to grow their own food, such as (via) urban gardening and came up with ideas to put food on the table,” he wrote in a Viber message.
He went on to say that he had noticed on social media that many people had become “chefs.” In these difficult circumstances, De la Peña remarked that being able to provide food is not the only factor to consider. “We must also ensure that the food we have is both safe and nutritious.”
From 2017 to 2022, the DOST’s food safety roadmap focuses on research and development (R&D) food programs, testing capability enhancements, human resource development, and information, technology transfer, and policy advocacy.
According to De la Peña, the implementation of the Integrated Food Safety Program has resulted in increased compliance and implementation of food safety standards and regulations due to the shared responsibility of all stakeholders in the food chain — from production to postharvest, processing, distribution, and consumption.
Over 648 food-related micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) received assistance and are now compliant with food safety regulations.
The program also looked into food-borne illnesses and food-safety knowledge gaps. At least 227 DOST food safety team members and laboratory analysts were trained to ensure that food industry players continue to receive food safety assistance and interventions.
The agency has also created unified food safety modules that have been distributed to its regional offices, as well as upgraded food safety testing services that have been integrated and promoted through the OneLab network.
The five-year program has been budgeted at close to PHP3 billion, according to de la Peña.
DOST Undersecretary Rowena Guevara announced on October 29 that the agency plans to invest PHP2.5 billion in food safety projects from 2022 to 2028 to ensure that everyone has access to healthy food through science, technology, and innovation.
“We will focus on the Integrated Food Safety R&D program for R&D,” Guevara said in a webinar, “which we envision will support the following: risk assessment studies to support national risk management; food industry by facilitating compliance with food safety guidelines and regulations; food testing of microbiological and chemical hazards; and the establishment of food safety R&D hubs.”
Food-borne infections, product detentions, insufficient technical support for MSMEs, a knowledge gap on food safety, food supply, and a lack of science-based evidence for food safety rules and recommendations are some of the issues that the R&D initiative will address.
Guevara stated that the DOST will implement a competency-based training program for food safety team members, R&D personnel, lab analysts, and local government units in terms of human resource development (LGUs). Food safety training modules are being developed, as well as a vast open online course on food safety.
Guevara stated that the DOST will investigate and build additional collaborations and scientific cooperation with foreign agencies to help them reach their goals, emphasizing that food safety is a shared responsibility and everyone’s business.
The DOST and the Singapore Collaboration Enterprise (SCE) signed a memorandum of agreement for scientific and technology cooperation on October 25.
Both sides agree to collaborate on scientific and technological efforts in the areas of water and waste management, food safety and security, aquaculture, digital governance, and other areas on which they mutually agree.
DOST and SCE will conduct a joint committee meeting to prioritize specific areas and mechanisms of MOU implementation.