Thursday, October 6, 2022

FAO completes food safety project in Lebanon despite logistical issues

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An FAO project has helped create a platform to improve food safety in Lebanon but there remain issues to address.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) supported the Ministry of Agriculture to strengthen its role in food safety in the country.

Food safety in Lebanon represents a major concern for policymakers and consumers. Studies by various research institutes and government agencies have reported high contamination levels in several products.

In 2016, the Lebanese Parliament endorsed a food safety law to improve conditions and create a Lebanese Food Safety Commission (LFSC). However, implementation decrees, procedures and systems were not established to make it effective.

The FAO project helped the Ministry of Agriculture design and set up a prototype for a food contamination monitoring system (FCMS). It strengthened the capacity of the agency in laboratory analysis, infrastructure and trained staff to implement the monitoring program.

It is hoped such a system would generate knowledge on the current situation and trends on the occurrence and spread of pathogens and other contaminants in the food supply chain. It could provide evidence for policy and planning and data to help the authorities take appropriate actions.

Project challenges
The Ministry of Agriculture’s Strategy 2020-2025 aims to enhance the quality and safety of agricultural and food products. It notes that despite efforts to improve food safety at the national level, there are still many points of weakness that negatively affect food control systems.

The 30-month FAO project, which began in late 2017, was slowed by economic, social and political unrest. In late 2019, efforts were paused as samples of food products needed for analysis to develop the FCMS could not be collected because of roadblocks all over Lebanon.

A quantitative risk assessment of microbial and chemical hazards helped estimate the risk associated with consumption of food products including dairy, meat, fruits and vegetables.

A report in December 2019 covered contaminant occurrence in the various products and dietary risks related to the exposure of Lebanese consumers. Results were presented and discussed in a workshop attended by 51 stakeholders. Participants selected pesticide residues and aflatoxins to be monitored in domestic apples and in-shell roasted pistachios. However, there was a three-month delay to approve the two selected commodities to be tested.

A meeting in December 2021 included presentations on project results and discussions about the food contamination monitoring system. In February 2022, the Ministry of Agriculture said it was creating the system.

An effective FCMS is expected to lead to more responsible production and a significant reduction in food loss. It is hoped the health of consumers will be protected and food security will increase through the provision of safe food.

Helping women in rural areas
Meanwhile, another project involving FAO is helping raise awareness of the role women play in the agri-food sector in the country.

About 300 participants attended online training sessions organized by FAO Lebanon on topics such as food quality control, food processing, food safety, packaging, and labeling and safeguarding human health.

Funded by the government of Canada, the training took place in July to improve participants’ capacity to produce better and safer food in a more sustainable way.

Since 2019, the project has contributed to building the capacities of 32 facilitators and co-facilitators; and 255 women groups such as cooperatives, associations, and informal groups.

Overall, 150 women’s groups will receive cash or in-kind grants that will enable them to obtain equipment and other help to move forward in the production and marketing of their products.

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