TIME and again, we hear of Malaysian produce being rejected by other countries, the latest being bottled mineral water that were recalled by the Singaporean authorities. The particular bottled mineral water were found to contain Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bacterium found in faeces, soil, water and sewage.
It is strange that such an incident was not discovered by our local authorities even though it is estimated that Malaysians consume more than 100 million bottles a year. Given the situation, many Malaysian consumers may have consumed the contaminated water.
The main legislations regulating food safety in the country are the Food Act 1983, Food Regulations 1985 and Food Hygiene Regulations 2009. They aim to protect the public against food-related hazards and frauds, promote safe preparation, handling and distribution, and the sale of healthy and high quality food.
As food safety has to be maintained from production to consumption, many ministries and agencies are involved in the process. Among them are the Health and Agriculture and Agro-based Industry ministries, local authorities and Customs (for import and export of food).
In spite of the existence of the law and enforcement body entrusted to ensure that Malaysians get safe and wholesome food, we rarely hear of our local produce being recalled.
However, many recalls of Malaysian foods in foreign countries, besides the rejection of mineral water, have been reported:
> In 2018, iceberg lettuce were recalled by the Singaporean authorities after high levels of pesticide was detected in the vegetable imported from a Malaysian farm;
> In 2017, China rejected fruits from Cameron Highlands due to the presence of living modified organism (LMO);
> In 2016, Malaysian prawns, mostly from Penang aquaculture farms, were rejected by the United States government due to the presence of banned antibiotics (nitrofuran and chloramphenicol); and
> In 2015, some 300 batches of vegetables – mostly leafy greens – and fruits were stopped from being sold in Singapore after pesticide residues found on samples exceeded levels allowed by the authorities.
It is said that 3% to 5% of vegetables and fruits from Malaysia exceeded pesticide limits set by the Singaporean authorities.
Due to the bad track record of our agricultural produce, since May 1, exporters of Malaysian agricultural produce to Singapore need to register with our Health Ministry to have the MyFood Tag identification, which is a mechanism to strengthen food safety control and traceability in the supply chain.
While it is a voluntary certification in Malaysia, produce without the MyFood Tag will not be allowed to enter Singapore.
The certification process audits the production, storage, transport, processing and distribution of food items. The MyFood Tag system should be made mandatory to improve food safety for Malaysians.
According to deputy Health Minister Lee Boon Chye, the requirement for the MyFood Tag for produce to be exported to Singapore was a request from the Singapore authorities and would only apply to fresh vegetables and fruits at the moment.
The government should conduct safety checks consistently, regardless of whether the vegetables are meant for export or local consumption.
Contaminated produce must be removed from the market and farmers who sell them must be punished.
MOHIDEEN ABDUL KADER
Consumers Association of Penang