Singapore Food Agency to focus on food safety and security: Masagos

ALFRED CHUA Today Online 13 Feb 19;

SINGAPORE — Food safety and security are critical to Singapore, particularly as the country relies heavily on food imports, which can be affected by climate change and food crises.

That is why the two issues will be the focus of a new statutory board, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), said Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli.

“Food security is fundamental for our national security. We have worked hard to ensure Singapore’s food safety and security over the decades,” said Mr Masagos during the second reading of the Singapore Food Agency Bill in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 12).

The SFA will be formed in April and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will be dissolved.

The AVA’s food-related responsibilities will be consolidated with the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

The role of the SFA is to:

Ensure the resilience of Singapore’s food supply chain and manage the impact of any adverse disruptions on food sources.

Improve food safety, uphold international standards here and promote fair trade and commerce in the food industry.

The agri-food landscape is “changing rapidly” with global demand expected to grow by 60 per cent by 2050, said Mr Masagos. “Vital resources to meet the increased food demand, such as water and energy, are increasingly scarce.”

With climate change added to the mix, competition for scarce resources will escalate, he added.

As the food supply chain is becoming more globalised, there is also a need to “manage the risks from the growing complexity”, because this increases the “potential points of failure where contamination can enter the food chain”, said Mr Masagos.

This will lead to difficulty in identifying the source of problems and “we must ensure that our food safety and security regime is well ahead of the curve”, he stressed.

Eleven Members of Parliament (MPs) rose to speak on the Bill on Tuesday, bringing up issues that broadly covered three areas: Food prices and security, food safety and food wastage.


At least four MPs raised concerns about food prices, pointing to incidents in recent months that threatened supply of food and drove prices up.

In January, Malaysia temporarily stopped its export of four species of fish and shrimp to Singapore ahead of the Chinese New Year festival to meet shortages because of the monsoon and festive seasons. Global food crises in 2007 and 2008 had also led to spikes in food prices here.

The MPs urged the SFA to work towards a diversification of food sources and to mitigate price volatility.

Mr Masagos said the SFA is building on AVA’s efforts to diversify import sources. Their measures include overseas sourcing trips and increasing the number of farms across different countries that can export to Singapore.

“SFA will introduce requirements for importers of key food items to adopt plans to mitigate any supply disruption,” he added.

The agency will also intensify efforts to grow the local agri-food ecosystem and plans include training specialists and tapping technology for the tasks.

Public education efforts on supporting local produce or food substitutes such as plant-based proteins or liquid eggs will be ramped up, said Mr Masagos.


Food safety was another issue that featured prominently in MPs’ speeches, particularly in light of the recent spate of food poisoning cases, which left one person dead and many others ill.

Nee Soon Group Representative Constituency (GRC) MP Lee Bee Wah said that while she was heartened to note that the SFA will improve regulatory oversight on food safety, there was scope to review mandatory basic food hygiene courses that food handlers need to undergo.

Nominated MP (NMP) Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad suggested that the SFA could make use of emerging technologies such as blockchain to tackle food-safety challenges.

Non-constituency MP Leon Perera and NMP Anthea Ong urged the authorities to implement a whistleblowing system in the food industry, so that food-safety lapses can be better detected and dealt with.

The SFA could also examine the work conditions of food handlers more closely, “to understand if there is more we can do to address the root causes” of negligent food-handling practices, said Mr Perera.

Mr Masagos said in his speech that a single agency such as the SFA will “support consistent administration and enforcement of the regulatory framework for food establishments, balanced against supporting enterprise and job creation”.

Agreeing with suggestions that technology could be used to make regulations more efficient and effective, he added that this, together with an increased level of accountability from the food industry, will complement an already-robust enforcement action.

The SFA is also looking into streamlining licensing standards for food businesses and combining existing licences.

“For example, we are looking into ways to streamline the licences for premises carrying out both central kitchen and catering operations,” Mr Masagos said.


Ms Ong spoke about how the SFA could, as part of its role as the leading agency on food safety and security, come up with measures to address food waste and insecurity.

For instance, she said there could be regulations to disincentivise and incentivise businesses when it came to throwing food away.

Similarly, Mr Melvin Yong, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, also called on the authorities to do more with educating the public on food waste. The SFA could play a “matchmaker role” in matching charities with food businesses, he added.

In his speech, Mr Masagos said that food waste is one of the NEA’s priorities in its Year Towards Zero Waste movement.

“My ministry recognises that government regulations may promote the reduction of food waste, and will look further into it with our partners, taking into consideration other factors such as food safety and business costs,” he added.

New agency to be formed to oversee Singapore’s food safety, security
Tang See Kit Channel NewsAsia 12 Feb 19;

SINGAPORE: A new agency to oversee food-related issues will be formed under new laws passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 12).

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), which is set to be formed on Apr 1 and come under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, will consolidate the regulatory oversight of food safety and security, which are currently divided among three public agencies.

These are the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA). All three work together to oversee the food supply chain — from import, local production, manufacturing to retail.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, in presenting the Bill for a second reading in Parliament, said Singapore will not be the first to adopt such a “farm-to-fork model” and the Government has studied other countries where a single agency is responsible for food safety along the entire food supply chain.

There are merits in doing so, he added, and the reorganisation will be a boost in securing the supply of safe food for Singapore.

Other measures aimed at beefing up Singapore's food security will also be introduced in the future.


While the country has done well in terms of food security – an area that is fundamental to national security – Mr Masagos stressed that Singapore cannot take the current situation for granted.

This is due to rapid changes in the landscape for agriculture and food.

The minister mentioned how the world population is set to grow by another 30 per cent to 9.7 billion by 2050, with global food demand also projected to rise by 60 per cent. Vital resources to meet the increased food demand, such as water and energy, are becoming increasingly scarce.

Climate change will exacerbate these threats, he added, citing an example close to home.

“Right here in ASEAN, one of my counterparts shared with me that the impact of climate change is already being felt and has caused more frequent and severe droughts and floods in the Mekong River Delta, which is the ‘rice bowl’ of Asia,” he said. “Rice production can fall by more than 50 per cent.”

“These are real-life threats, and can hit us bad since we import more than 90 per cent of our food.”

Growing complexity in global food supply chains has also made the safeguarding of Singapore’s food supply even more challenging because it increases the “potential points of failure where contamination can enter the food chain”.

Given how food undergoes multiple processes involving different countries before reaching consumers here, Mr Masagos noted that this had made it “more difficult to identify the source of the problems when they occur".

“Was the cause of a food poisoning incident due to poor hygiene in the restaurant or hotel? Could it have been due to high levels of pesticides on the raw ingredients? Contaminants introduced in the manufacturing process of packing and canning? Or deterioration in quality and safety during transportation?”

“Such challenges will intensify. Complex supply chains will evolve as climate change affects production," Mr Masagos said.

With the consolidation of existing capabilities of NEA, AVA and HSA, the SFA will be able to “holistically respond to food safety incidents wherever these occur along the food supply chain”, the minister added.

He went on to explain that in the event of a food poisoning incident, a single team will oversee the entire food supply chain and manage investigations – starting from the accreditation of overseas farms, to import, to intermediate processing by central kitchens and retailers, and finally to the proper storage and preparation at the retail outlet.

“This will allow SFA to respond more promptly to trace the source of contamination," he said.

On food security, new measures will require importers of key food items to have plans and preventive strategies to mitigate the impact of food supply disruptions.

Referring to Malaysia’s recent announcements on restricting certain seafood exports, as well as considering limiting or stopping egg exports to Singapore, Mr Masagos said this will not be the last time Singapore faces possible disruption to its food imports.

“We must therefore continue to diversify our food import sources and not be over-reliant on any single source," the minster said.

READ: Malaysia seafood export limits 'not likely to have significant impact' on Singapore supply: AVA
In addition to regulatory oversight, the SFA will also partner businesses to transform the local food industry.

This will be done by leveraging emerging opportunities – including new food production methods and novel food products – to enhance food supply resilience and grow Singapore into an agri-food hub.

“Amidst the uncertainties facing the agri-food landscape, our goal is to seize the opportunity for Singapore to turn our food challenges into strategic advantages … to secure our food supply, transform our agri-food industry, develop our local enterprises, and provide good jobs to Singaporeans. Just like how we have turned our vulnerability in water into opportunity," Mr Masagos said.


Members of the House supported the Bill, with some describing the streamlining of functions into a single agency as a step in the right direction.

MPs, including Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC), cited the recent spate of food poisoning incidents and asked how the SFA could strengthen Singapore’s food safety regime.

In his reply, Mr Masagos mentioned that the forming of a single agency can help deepen food safety expertise here, given how the National Centre for Food Science will soon come under the SFA.

The formation of the SFA will also integrate operations related to food safety threats, such as providing a single contact point for the public to provide feedback, combining contact tracing and industry engagement operations.
This, according to the minister, will allow the new agency to pinpoint and remedy critical points across the supply chain, and react more quickly to food safety incidents.

MPs also emphasised the area of food security, with Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) asking how the Government is tapping on business organisations to continually look for new and reliable supply sources.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) referred to the potential disruptions in the country’s egg and seafood imports, and asked how the SFA can better handle such incidents without causing alarm.

To that, Mr Masagos replied that the SFA will ensure food security by developing and enhancing three national strategies.

These include building on the existing work of the AVA to diversify import sources, intensify efforts to grow an agri-food ecosystem here, as well as continue to support home-grown companies to expand overseas.

Source: CNA/sk(mi)

Parliament: New agency will strengthen Singapore's food security, says Masagos
Cheryl Teh Straits Times 12 Feb 19;

SINGAPORE - Singapore's new food regulator will ensure the country's food security by further developing three national strategies to obtain food, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

He set out the Singapore Food Agency's (SFA) priorities in Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 12) during the debate on a Bill that will pave the way for its formation on April 1 to oversee food safety and security.

Stressing that food security is fundamental to Singapore's national security, Mr Masagos said Singapore must not be overreliant on any single food source.

He recounted how Malaysia announced last December that it was considering limiting or stopping egg exports, and restricting exports of certain types of seafood.

It will not be the last time that Singapore faces possible disruption to its food imports, he noted.

"With the formation of SFA, we will continue to strengthen Singapore's food security and reduce our vulnerability to external volatility and price hikes," he said. "SFA will also continue to partner other government agencies to ensure basic food items remain affordable."

First, the SFA will build on existing work by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to diversity import sources, Mr Masagos said.

Singapore Food Agency: Strategies to ensure Singapore’s food security

These sources have been expanded from 140 countries in 2004 to around 180 countries today, he added.

"We take for granted apples from Poland, bananas from Ecuador, and Mandarin oranges from China in our supermarkets. These are in fact the fruits of a deliberate strategy to diversify our food sources," said Mr Masagos.

He noted that food imports will remain the Republic's biggest "food basket" for the foreseeable future.

The SFA will also intensify efforts to grow the agri-food sector here, which is Singapore's second "food basket", he added.

This includes educating the farmers of the future at local institutes of higher learning.

"The future of farming in Singapore has to be one that is technology and R&D driven, climate resilient and resource efficient with high productivity," Mr Masagos said, adding that Singapore is expected to expand further into having indoor vertical farms and deep sea fish farming in future.

As part of growing Singapore's third food basket, he said the SFA will continue to help Singaporean companies based overseas to access new and bigger markets, to bring down costs through economies of scale and reduce the price of exports to the Republic.

The SFA will take over the AVA's responsibilities with regard to food safety and security.

In addition, the National Environment Agency's job of regulating food hygiene at the retail level and the analysis of food samples under the Health Science Authority will come under the new agency.

This consolidation will allow SFA to react more quickly to food safety incidents and help deepen food safety expertise in Singapore, among other things, Mr Masagos said.

Twelve MPs raised questions and spoke on issues that included food safety, food labelling and production during the debate on the Singapore Food Agency Bill, which was passed on Tuesday.

Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) asked if Singapore would be able to import foods of similar quality and safety if its supply is curtailed by neighbouring countries.

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked if the SFA would be able to "mitigate rising food prices that fuel increases in cost of living" and address "household food insecurity".

Replying, Mr Masagos said securing Singapore's food supply is also the primary way to mitigate price volatility and spikes.

"This is a focus of SFA, which will continue to contribute to whole-of-Government efforts to provide affordable food, accessible to all Singaporeans," he said.