Food Safety Day: Civil Society Calls Out Govt

Uganda joins the rest of the world to mark World Food Safety Day this week amidst persistent concerns about the standards of Uganda’s agricultural products on both the local and international markets. 

Except for Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, all the East African Community member-states have over the last few years rejected Uganda’s food exports citing poor standards.

These mainly arise from adulteration as well as contamination with chemicals traced to spraying and post-handling methods. The Government has been implementing measures to ensure improved standards to make food safe for local and foreign consumers, including suspending the export of fresh agricultural products to the European market.

World Food Safety Day, observed on June 7th each year provides an opportunity to reinforce the importance of safe food practices, highlight potential risks, and advocate for the implementation of robust food safety measures. This year’s World Food Safety Day will be celebrated under the theme; “Food Standards Save Lives” with the aim of stressing the importance of applying standards along the entire food value chain.

The civil society in Uganda blames the government for not being strict enough on food standards and safety, including by failing to implement and enforce measures and laws that exist.

These include the failure to abide by the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), an African Union initiative that directs member countries to, among others, increase agriculture’s budget allocation to at least 10 percent.

Uganda has averaged about 2 percent over the years. The government is also blamed for failing to ban the use of the dreaded glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides as spraying is becoming more common in the country. 

Food Rights Alliance Chief Executive, Agnes Kirabo says that unfortunately, both the general public and the relevant authorities have not bothered to question the bad practices regarding food handling.

She also questioned where the food that is rejected by the export markets is put because it is supposed to be destroyed by the government.

World Food Safety Day, observed on June 7th each year provides an opportunity to reinforce the importance of safe food practices, highlight potential risks, and advocate for the implementation of robust food safety measures. This year’s World Food Safety Day will be celebrated under the theme; “Food Standards Save Lives” with the aim of stressing the importance of applying standards along the entire food value chain.

SEATINI Uganda Program Officer Aid and Debt, Peninah Mbabazi also said there is a lot the government can do to improve food safety, including a review of the laws relating to the sector, some of which are almost 60 years. In a joint statement by the civil society organizations, Mbabazi called for the operationalization of the food, animal, and plant health authority, as well as a return of inspections at the household, farm, and processing levels of food.

The Uganda National Bureau of Standards, UNBS, the agency responsible for the safety of consumers and users of food and non-food products, has been implementing several measures to ensure better food safety and standards. These include sensitizing producers around the country, followed by enforcement action like the closure of factories, among others.

UNBS says the establishment of Food Safety Testing Laboratories near border areas is one of the approaches to improving standards for food products for local and export consumption. This month the third laboratory was opened in Mbarara City to cater to the western region, following one in Mbale for the eastern and Gulu for the northern regions, a project supported by Trademark East Africa and the Danish government.

David Livingstone Ebiru, the Executive Director of UNBS, said, this makes adherence to standards easier and cheaper by decentralizing the services. “The cost of doing business for the majority of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises based in the countryside will reduce since Enterprises who used to seek testing services from UNBS Central Laboratories in Kampala can now get them from the Regional Offices,” he said.

The laboratories will test stuff like beef, water, honey, fruits and vegetables, grain, cereals, and cereal products as well as animal products like milk and milk products, edible fats, and oils. Jonathan Lubega, the Head of Community Empowerment at CEFROHT (Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights) said while the laws need to be reviewed, even the current ones that could help are not being applied.

Betty Rose Aguti, the policy and advocacy analyst at Caritas Uganda, a charity that aims at empowering small farmer communities defended the farmers on safety and standards.

Aguti says that the farmers do what they think is right and that it is the government structures are supposed to regulate and advise them on how to observe safety and standards.

According to WHO in 2015, an estimated 600 million almost 1 in 10 people in the world suffer from food-borne illnesses, and 420,000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years. In Africa, about 91 million people fall ill each year from foodborne illnesses which account for one-third of the global death toll for foodborne diseases.

According to a World Bank report in 2019, an estimated 94.2 billion dollars is lost each year in labor productivity while medical costs resulting from unsafe food in low and middle-income countries amount to UGX 15 billion. In Uganda, about 1.3 million cases of food-borne illnesses are registered annually, according to the Ministry of Health, accounting for 14 percent of all cases treated as reported by the Ministry.

Dennis Tabaro, the Executive Director of the African Institute for Culture and Ecology, called for efforts to revive traditional and locally-made solutions to improving productivity, saying they were safer without the need for chemicals.

Scroll to top
Close