The Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) on Tuesday rallied stakeholders and partners towards enhancing the framework for the food safety system in the country.
The group reiterated the need to expedite the passage of the Food Safety and Quality Bill into law in order to enhance access of Nigerian agricultural products in the international markets without further obstacles.
Speaking at the opening of the Food and Feed Safety Expertise Co-ordination Workshop in Abuja, Chief Executive Designate, NESG, Dr. Tayo Aduloju, said the delay in the passage of the bill had partly contributed to the continued rejection of some of export products by foreign countries especially the European Union (EU), United States and the United Kingdom, among others.
This comes as the US also said Nigerian products often don’t meet all the regulatory and safety requirements specified by the country, leading to their rejections.
The Councillor for Agricultural Affairs, Nigeria, Benin and Cameroon, US Department of Agriculture, Dr. Christopher Bielecki, told THISDAY that the US cannot allow such unsafe products to endanger the country.
He acknowledged that Nigerian businesses had raised concerns over the high rate of export rejections they faced in the US and other parts of the world adding that the countries cannot afford to lower the bar in the interest of public food safety.
Bielecki, however, said the US was ready to do whatever it could to help Nigeria overcome its limitations as well as expand its access to foreign markets, and improve bilateral trade relations between both countries.
He said: “My job here is to promote international trade, bilateral trade with the US in Nigeria, in food and agriculture, beverages, feeds, and fuel.
“Whatever we can do to help improve trade not just between our countries but also greater West Africa, the continent; we want to do whatever we can do to help Nigeria access foreign markets.
“So, we want Nigeria to lead on this and even when they ask us for help, we will certainly be there to help them.”
Nonetheless, Aduloju said the event marked a critical juncture in the country’s global efforts towards transforming food systems, emphasising the vital role of coordination, cooperation, and collaboration among relevant stakeholders.
He said Nigeria’s commitment to upholding the highest food safety standards remained paramount to its well being and progress, stressing that through collaboration and pooling collective expertise, the regulatory frameworks would be strengthened, leading to enhancement of the overall quality of food and feed in our country.
He said Nigeria’s 70 million hectares of agricultural land, presented massive potential for economic growth and development.
“We must have effective regulatory, institutional, and policy frameworks. Frameworks that address the gaps in food and feed safety systems will not only improve the wellbeing of citizens but also impact Nigeria’s position in international trade,” he added.
The incoming NESG chief executive also stated that for Nigeria to benefit effectively from the AfCFTA, reforming food and feed safety systems was inevitable.
He urged President Bola Tinubu to show political will and authorisation towards the passage of the Food Safety and Quality Bill – which was passed by both chambers of the legislature last year but couldn’t get the crucial assent of the president to become.
He said the government needed not to wait for another four years to pass the bill as this could be accomplished within a year.
Aduloju said safety and quality remained a key component of the food security agenda of the current administration, adding that it was time for political authorisation to align with policy and legislative action to make it happen.
He said passing the bill into law would also ensure that the country’s food exports can access international markets, especially at a time when attracting foreign exchange is inevitable to shore up reserves.
On his part, Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof. Muhammad Pate, expressed satisfaction that food safety stakeholders were uniting to consider and deliberate on the priority areas for capacity building with a focus on modernising the food safety system.
The minister said the event came prior to the validation of the revised National Policy on Food Safety and Quality and its Implementation Plan, 2023 as well as the launch of the maiden National Integrated Guidelines for Foodborne Disease Surveillance and Response.
Represented by his Special Adviser on Operations, Mr. Emmanual Odu, Pate said the steps were deliberate efforts put in place by the ministry to ensure that the country attained the required National Health Security Status.
He explained that the revised policy will look at new and emerging areas that will improve the regulatory, enforcement, and data-gathering system to ensure it is more effective, efficient, and robust.
He added that the guidelines will set the roadmap for the integrated surveillance of foodborne diseases and establish the protocols for the response to food safety emergencies in the country.
He stressed that food security was not only about the availability and affordability of food but also about ensuring that the foods consumed were safe, healthy, and nutritious.
James Emejo in Abuja