SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE SINGAPORE FOOD AGENCY BILL IN PARLIAMENT IN FEB 2019
Mr Speaker Sir
The decision to establish a Singapore Food Agency (SFA) is timely, as we witness several significant lapses in food safety in the past months. With large scale food poisoning cases including one fatal case, and with undesirable foreign items discovered in prepacked food, Singaporeans cannot help but wonder if our eateries and relevant government agencies are getting things right in food hygiene management. Are F&B staff overworked resulting in lapses in food handling hygiene? Or, are they not receiving adequate training? These are common concerns that people would raise when they see yet another news report concerning food safety lapses.
In truth, the food landscape in Singapore and around the world is evolving rapidly. Globalisation and new business models have made food supply chains more complex than ever. International brand names are setting up restaurants on our sunny island, and they are also flying in raw ingredients from overseas. Climate changes and disasters disrupt the supply of food ingredients, pressuring businesses to turn to alternative sources. Perhaps the pressure to deliver under disruption may have compromised some safety procedures.
Good Practices in Food Handling
Domestically, more young people are turning to entrepreneurship, and considering Singaporeans’ passion for food, it’s not surprising that cafes and eateries are popular business choices. With the gig economy becoming increasingly mainstream, we are also seeing more freelancers making use of their talents to become home bakers and private chefs.
And, food deliveries are becoming the norm for F&B establishments, from hawker centres to restaurants to grocery retailers, to deliver consumers’ meals. Yet this adds additional challenges to the food safety process. Packaging, exposure to outdoor temperatures and with more people involved in handling of the food. These are all additional matters to consider in food safety management. In short, all these developments would lead to a higher probability in food safety lapses, and so there is a need for the government to better manage food safety risks.
Mr Speaker, I am pleased to note that the SFA has pledged to improve regulatory oversight. This is being done by overseeing food safety across the entire food supply chain from farm-to-fork. The SFA has promised to harmonise regulatory and enforcement processes. Hopefully in doing so, there can be better coordination for food-related issues, product tracing and recall, as well as engagement of stakeholders and members of the public. In the meantime, SFA will require adequate manpower and resources to implement such a large-scale process.
Will SFA be hiring more people? What kind of training will be given? How will technology be applicable to make the process more efficient?
Meanwhile, I do not think it is practical to rely on SFA to manage every aspect of food safety for all F&B services and businesses. The onus is on business owners to provide their consumers with meals that are safe to consume. I hope the newly established SFA will work closely with these businesses, including freelancers, to provide them with the education and resources they would require staying abreast with food safety management requirements. In fact, perhaps it would be timely to review the mandatory basic food hygiene courses that food handlers are required to undergo. And the frequency of the mandatory refresher course could be increased as well.
We are fortunate that our country is free from natural disasters due to our prime location. Nevertheless, that does not absolve us from being at the mercy of natural disasters, and disease outbreaks, that hit other countries. Most of our food products are imported from other countries. We get hit by whatever shortages and price hikes that impact on our exporters. With the world climate becoming increasingly unpredictable, it is sensible of SFA to consider food security among its priorities. A key food security strategy is to diversify our food supply sources, much like what we did with our water supply. With the new powers that the SFA will get through this bill, they will be able to impose diversification requirements on food importers via licensing conditions. Moreover, the ability to collect food-related data from the industry will help us to better prepare and plan for food supply disruptions. Yet while this is a good strategy, this could mean additional burdens on importers of vital food items to come up with the relevant diversification strategies. Will SFA provide any form of assistance to these importers?
I understand that AVA has helped to organise overseas food sourcing trips and match importers to suppliers. Will SFA continue this and possibly even enhance it?
Creating our own supply of food is another vital aspect of food security. I am heartened to note that SFA intends to work with the industry and R&D partners to develop new products and solutions that can enhance food supply resilience, while overcoming resource constraints in land, energy and water. Happily, there has been growing interest in farming among young Singaporeans. There are farmers’ market events where one can purchase locally grown organic produce. We’re hearing more about Singaporeans volunteering in community gardens or growing their own indoor produce.
*eg residents like Ong Chun Yeow who was featured in ST recently
Mr Speaker, by envisioning Singapore as an agri-food hub that exports sustainable urban food solutions to cities around the world, the SFA has demonstrated foresight. I am looking forward to hearing about the specific plans that SFA has in place to achieve this. We will need to have the relevant talent for sure, and I trust that SFA will be working with educational institutions to open up new education pathways for those who are interested in food science, agriculture and other relevant disciplines. By developing a new sector, we can expect to open up a new job market for Singaporeans. And, for Singaporeans who have a passion for agriculture but feel inhibited by the lack of demand, they can take heart that they may work soon be able to work towards fulfilling their dreams of going professional right here on home ground.
Sir, the future is bright and exciting with the new SFA and enhanced focus on food security and safety management.
We can look forward to better safety protocols with regards to our food, and opportunities to grow our capabilities and extend our relevance in the global market.
In Chinese please. 最近食物中毒事件不少，邻国又说要限制食物供应，这时候成立新加坡食品局再贴切不过。
很高兴食品局将努力突破我们的地域局限，发展城市农耕，并让新加坡在城市农耕方面成为全球的领导者。希望食品局能开展这方面的课程，为新加坡人开辟新的职业选择。I support the motion.