Conflicting rules at center and provinces badly affecting food industry

–CCI urged to take up issue of uniformity in ‘food standards’

ISLAMABAD: The confronting laws of food standards set by authorities in the centre and provinces are not only violating international laws but also hampering investment and cost of doing business in the food manufacturing sector.

According to industry sources, food manufacturing and allied industry of Pakistan is badly affected by the 18th amendment to the constitution. Before the 18th amendment, all food quality standards were under the jurisdiction of the Pakistan Standard and Quality Control Authority (PSQCA). However, food alongside health, finance, agriculture, and livestock was devolved to provinces after the historic amendment leading to multiple food regimes.

In a more recent development, Punjab Food Authority (PFA) and other provincial authorities have promulgated provincial food standards, alongside the laws defined by the PSQCA. This has resulted in a confrontation between PFA and PSQCA, whereby the latter issued a public notice announcing the jurisdiction of the authority. This has led to a lot of confusion, particularly for the industry as they now have to ensure compliance with multiple food regimes. Hence, the need to harmonise food regulation to ensure consistency and more unified regulation which the industry can follow.

The industry sources claim that there is also growing concern amongst leading food manufacturers and allied industry that in future this may escalate to an issue between provinces too. According to the ‘varied food laws’ in different provinces are also a direct violation of the international commitments made by Pakistan. “If we take the case of the European Union, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in a centralised and unified body which provides the European Commission and EU countries with independent scientific advice on food safety. Also, there is general food law regulation which is an overarching and coherent framework for the development of food and feed legislation. This is enforced by all EU countries to incorporate this legislation into their national law and implement it,” they said adding, with varied food laws in each province the cost of production and packaging of each food item would also increase. This will have a negative impact on the growth of local and international businesses looking to scale and benefit from Pakistan’s growing middle class.

The industry has raised this issue at both the federal and provincial level with various stakeholders recommending harmonisation of food standards and law.

“It is not possible for the food sector industry in Pakistan to cater to multiple regimes and different standards of food laws of the Federation and Provinces,” wrote Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Khalid Mansoor in a letter to Chief Minister Punjab.

“PSQCA is a body operating under the Ministry of Science & Technology and is charged with developing and overseeing national standards. It is proposed that an interprovincial committee be constituted under supervision of Ministry of Science and Technology which should include representatives of the Provincial Food Authorities and the PSQCA to formulate harmonised national food standards in line with the Codex Alimentarius”, wrote the Pakistan Business Council in a joint letter to Interprovincial Committee Federal Secretary Amjad Ali Khan.

According to the industry sources, there is an urgent need to address this issue and bring it to the Council of Common Interest (CCI) and Board of Investment (BOI) for definitive decision to facilitate existing businesses and new foreign investment. Representatives of the Food Manufacturing Industry have urged both Federal and Provincial governments to formulate a uniform national standard.

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Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]
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