Parliament: 3 strategies for new agency to strengthen food security

Stressing that food security is fundamental to Singapore's national security, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said Singapore must not be over-reliant on any single food source. He recounted how Malaysia announced las
Stressing that food security is fundamental to Singapore's national security, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said Singapore must not be over-reliant 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.ST FILE PHOTO

Diversify sources, grow agri-food sector, help S'pore firms overseas

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 yesterday 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 over-reliant 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 diversify import sources, Mr Masagos said. These sources have been expanded from 140 countries in 2004 to around 180 countries today.

"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," he said.

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 farmers of the future at local institutes of higher learning, and possibly 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 Singapore 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 role of regulating food hygiene at the retail level and the analysis of food samples under the Health Sciences Authority will come under the new agency.

This consolidation will allow SFA to react more quickly to food safety incidents and 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 yesterday.

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

Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh asked if the SFA would be able to mitigate against 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 against 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2019, with the headline '3 strategies for new agency to strengthen food security'. Print Edition | Subscribe