Panel set up to keep food imports flowing in

Lee Hui Chieh, Straits Times 19 Jul 08;

THE Government has formed a new committee to ensure Singapore's food supply stays stable, even if international markets continue to be rocked by inadequate supplies and sky-high prices.

The committee will study trends in global food supply and devise long-term strategies to keep food flowing in, said Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan yesterday.

'This year has been a particularly challenging period for the food industry,' he said at an awards ceremony to recognise manufacturers for food safety practices. 'This has seriously affected our people.'

The committee was created to help Singapore, which is heavily reliant on food imports, adjust to drastic permanent changes in global markets.

These include rising demand from developing countries and intense competition for farm land from biofuels.

Officials on the new committee will likely look to increase the number of countries and foreign suppliers that export food to Singapore, an Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) spokesman said.

Plans could also include investing in farms overseas and possibly expanding farming here.

The committee will also look at helping local food importers draw up contingency plans for temporary shortages.

Set up in May this year, the Inter-agency Committee on Food Supply Resilience is headed by the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

Sitting on the committee as well are representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the AVA, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, International Enterprise Singapore and the Department of Statistics.

Mr Mah said that the AVA was encouraging imports from as many countries as possible to ensure Singapore is not too reliant on one source.

For example, since January, it has allowed 158 companies in 19 countries, such as the Philippines, Chile and Spain, to export meat to Singapore.

New committee set up to ensure stability in long term food supply
Hoe Yeen Nie, Channel NewsAsia 18 Jul 08;

SINGAPORE: As global supply shocks continue to hit food-importing countries, the government has taken another step to help ease the impact of escalating prices.

It has set up a committee to study how the country can ensure stability in long-term food supply. The committee will be led by the Ministries for National Development, and Trade and Industry.

When the avian flu struck the region in 2004, Singapore companies which had buffer stocks of frozen poultry in their cold stores were able to do business as usual.

Speaking at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) Food Safety Awards Night 2008 on Friday, National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan said food companies here need to develop similar business continuity plans in case of a break in supply.

Singapore is already importing food from more countries and has turned to frozen meat as a cheaper alternative.

Among its plans, the new inter-agency committee will examine Singapore's farming policy while investing in food production overseas.

Mr Mah said: "We need to recognise that many of the factors that are affecting the food supply situation today are not temporary ones. In fact, there are also medium-term and long-term issues and structural ones that are taking place."

However, he said the top priority is to ensure that the food we eat is safe. The AVA closely regulates the food that we consume, but Mr Mah said businesses too need to take the initiative.

As consumers' tastebuds become more discerning, it makes business sense for food establishments to maintain high standards. - CNA/vm

How to keep food supplies flowing
Search for solutions include investing in high-yieldoverseas sources and a review of local farming policy
Teo Xuanwei, Today Online 19 Jul 08;

AS MORE food price hikes loom over the horizon — going by a recent United Nations prediction that prices are set to climb “at least until 2010” :— the search for solutions to securing a steady supply for Singapore is cranking up another gear.

Describing the recent price hikes on key items such as rice, vegetables and meat as a “particularly challenging period”, Minister for National Development (MND) MahBow Tan said on Friday that the Government has set up an inter-agency committee to come up with mid- to long-term strategies to combat potential food supply crunches or price shocks.

Set up in May, the committee :— jointly led by the Ministry for Trade and Industry and MND :— will study the changes and trends in global food supply, as well as examine policies to deal with the scenario where the Republic’s food stocks are threatened.

“We need to recognise that many of the factors affecting the food supply situation today are not temporary ones, but structural changes,” said Mr Mah at the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s (AVA) annual Food Safety Excellence Awards ceremony. “Given our heavy dependence on food imports, we are unfortunately affected by such global food price increases.”

Amongst other things, the committee will explore the feasibility of investing in high-yield food sources overseas, as well as ways to develop robust business continuity plans (BCPs) with the industry. The local farming policy will also be reviewed.

So far, Singapore has dealt with the price escalation :— brought on by a confluence of factors, such as higher demand for food from increasingly affluent developing countries, bad weather and soaring fuel prices :— by hunting for as many diverse sources as possible.

The hunt for non-traditional sources has seen new suppliers for fish from faraway Namibia, eggs from the United States, rice from Vietnam and greens from Vietnam and Indonesia.

The AVA approved 158 sources in19 countries in the first six months of this year alone, noted Mr Mah, bringing the number of accredited meat import sources to over 10,000 in 29 countries.

But more could still be done, he said, adding that the industry has a “crucial role to play in ensuring a stable supply of food at competitive prices”.

Importers could consider setting up their own food supply zones in regional countries by lending them our knowledge in research, technology and logistics in food production or investing in aquaculture and vegetable farms overseas.

There is also a need to develop “robust” BCPs in the food industry, the minister said. These include buffer stocks to “tide over any supply disruptions” or having a ready list of alternative suppliers Singapore can go to in case regular supply lines are hit.

To that end, the chairman of the Meat Traders Association, Mr Jack Koh, said importers are “constantly exploring new sources so as to ensure supplies will not be disrupted at any time”.

Mr Mah also said that the theme of this year’s food safety public education programme will be “Select Food Carefully”. A series of activities that share tips onfood safety will be rolled out for the coming month.