The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently published an evaluation of an ongoing project to institutionalize food safety in Bangladesh. The project, titled, “Institutionalization of Food Safety in Bangladesh for Safer Food,” is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and was designed by FAO in consultation with the Ministry of Food. The evaluation was conducted by external, independent consultants supported by FAO’s Office of Evaluation (OED).
The aims of the study are: 1) to support the operations of the newly established Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA); 2) harmonize Bangladeshi food regulations, rules, and standards; 3) foster coordination between the various regulatory bodies that are responsible for food safety in Bangladesh; and 4) support the development of a third-party system for food safety verification and inspection. Per the evaluation, the project has been successful in many areas. However, there is room for improvement in Bangladesh’s food safety operations, and the risk of regression still remains.
The evaluation states that the project was “very relevant” to Bangladesh at the time of its implementation, and that it appropriately addressed the country’s need for modernization and harmonization of food safety legislation. The project provided assistance in the establishment of BFSA, as well as helped strengthen intergovernmental cooperation in an effort to create coherent policies to reduce the prevalence of foodborne illnesses in Bangladesh. The evaluation noted that there are several ongoing projects that are related to food safety in Bangladesh, but that the project under evaluation is the sole initiative that addresses high-level organizational efforts to build institutional capacity at the national level.
While efforts to coordinate the various food safety projects that are ongoing in Bangladesh have been mostly successful, initiatives to involve the private sector have been less fruitful. Regardless, the establishment of BFSA has achieved notable results. BFSA has worked to define the roles, objectives, and activities of the new agency, as well as to create standard operating procedures (SOPs) and codes of practice (COPs).
Important achievements of the project include: raising public awareness that food safety is a shared responsibility between government, industry, and consumers; the introduction of a Bachelor of Science degree course in food safety management; and the creation of a strong drive to adopt an integrated “farm-to-fork” approach, specifically in the poultry and mango sectors, which has facilitated compliance with good agricultural practices (GAPs), good hygienic practices (GHPs), and the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) framework. While some progress has been made in regard to training for technicians and managers, third-party audits and verification, and a risk-based approach to allocating public resources for food safety purposes, there remains much room for improvement in these areas.
The evaluation proposes three recommendations based on its findings. First, it suggests that FAO support BFSA in conducting a self-assessment of the food control system in Bangladesh to identify priority areas for improvement, as well as in the use of FAO and the World Health Organization’s “Food Control System Assessment Tool” to address the identified improvement areas. Second, the evaluation recommends that FAO support BFSA in building a multi-disciplinary risk assessment team. Finally, the evaluation suggests that FAO consider the following areas of work to support BFSA in the future: data literacy, international collaboration with established food safety agencies, and testing and evaluation of how a voluntary third-party assurance program can be established in Bangladesh.