The Kenyan Bureau of Standards (KBS) is actively seeking to promote a harmonisation of food safety standards within the EAC region and across Africa. KBS Managing Director Evah Oduor called for the development of ‘a broad-based, horizontal, food safety standard which defines control systems and specifications that can serve as reference standards for trade in food products’. Such standards should ‘address issues of food safety, contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides and veterinary drug residues and antibiotics’. Provisions should also deal with issues related to the ‘packaging and labelling of products’.
The KBS is also developing a new food safety guide with the aim of boosting food safety and reducing the time frame for approval of food products. It is maintained that the new guidelines will simplify legislation and increase competitiveness. Following the adoption of these new food safety guidelines at the national level, the intention is to promote the same standards across the EAC, to ‘reduce barriers to trade in foodstuffs in the region and avoid the scenarios where foodstuffs from Kenya or Tanzania are denied entry at border point due to variance in standard’.
How far national standards may go is illustrated by the recent announcement that Kenya is to introduce a mineral fortification requirement for all cereal flour (maize, wheat and millet) on health grounds. A 1-year grace period for compliance is to be permitted.
While establishing common standards is essential for the promotion of regional trade, as illustrated by the experience in the dairy sector (see Agritrade article, ‘ Initiatives to establish an EAC regional dairy development strategy’, 6 October 2011), this process needs to involve all concerned stakeholders if standards are not to emerge that structurally favour some national producers over other producers. The initiative to use Kenyan standards for the promotion of regional standards could thus prove a double-edged sword. While the initiative could accelerate the process of regional standard-setting, it could lead to political concerns over a possible structural bias of the standards established in favour of Kenyan enterprises. In this context, the process of consultation through which national food standards are regionalised becomes as important as the standards themselves. Full involvement of regional food industry stakeholders will need to be ensured in any process of decision making that leads to the regional adoption of Kenyan national standards.
Kenyan standards development will also need to be coordinated with similar processes within COMESA and the Trilateral FTA context. For example, COMESA member states have adopted the Regulations on Application of Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary Measures and have designated the Mauritius Food Technology Laboratory as the regional reference laboratory for food safety. This requires the Kenyan authorities to ‘domesticate’ COMESA-wide decisions, for example, the operationalisation of instruments such as the proposed COMESA ‘green pass’, a product certification scheme that would enhance trade in food commodities in the region.
In should be noted that as, elsewhere in the region, enforcement issues remain a problem for the KBS, as evidenced by the high level of sub-standard products in circulation. As a consequence, the issue of differences in capacity at national level within EAC and application of the principle of asymmetry as provided by the EAC Protocol need to inform the development of food safety standards.
Finally, emerging areas such as biotechnology and genetically modified organisms also need to be addressed by the KBS: these are likely to impact on regional food commodity trade in the near future, as countries in the region increasingly adopt these new technologies.