Why import chicken when we have a surplus?
Malaysia is said to be producing all the chicken, egg and pork supply we need for the Malaysian population. So, why on earth is the media reporting that we have imported chicken from China?
According to a report by The Star dated May 10, livestock industry players have been reported to have urged the government to stop an incoming batch of chicken consignments from China.
On April 27, The Star also reported that the Department of Veterinary Services’ figures showed that Malaysia imports between 20,000 and 22,000 tonnes of frozen deboned chicken annually from two major plants based in Shandong.
This accounts for around 65 percent of the country’s annual imports of frozen deboned chicken, with the rest coming from Thailand and the European Union.
Livestock producers have also mentioned that they are producing 120 percent of the poultry market demand locally.
Heavy dependence on imported food will render the Malaysian population vulnerable to fluctuating food prices and most importantly safety and security issues. We urge all the relevant government agencies (and food and agriculture producers especially) to address the supply security and safety issues associated with imported poultry and meat - immediately.
Protein is among the basic nutritional requirement for a population in a robust economy or intending to be a robust economy. It is also crucial to vulnerable group of consumers like children.
We also urge an immediate plan and implementation of sustainable agriculture practices for food production such as rice, vegetables and fruits, along with sustainable animal food production such as fish and poultry.
Otherwise, with a growing population and increasing urbanisation, we are exposed to the insecurity of the global market in terms of food supply - especially when there is very little being done to address impacts of the changing climate on agriculture globally.
A pro-active, robust food safety system
We are also concerned with the slow response to ban imports when the first case of the H7N9 virus was reported as early as April 10 and outbreaks around April 27.
Based on lessons learnt from H1N1, the relevant agencies should have sprung to action when the cases and outbreaks were first reported.
Clearly, we need a robust and pro-active food safety system for imported and exported food in Malaysia which can be mobilised with immediate effect in the event of an outbreak.
Our work at the consumer organisation involves managing consumer complaints and the number of food safety complaints especially related to food served in restaurants around the country does not seem to be reducing.
Many of these cases go unreported due to the lack of urgency to report food safety cases among the medical professionals and consumers. This does not mean that ignorance is bliss or what you do not know won't hurt you - among the relevant government agencies.
We have been calling for improved food safety management system in restaurants for the past decade. We are not sure if the Makanan Selamat Tanggungjawab Industri (Mesti) programme implemented by the Health Ministry has been assessed to ensure effectiveness in meeting the objectives it was set out to achieve.
We hope the relevant agencies and food producers, processors, retailers, and all others in the food supply chain will acknowledge the seriousness of repercussions stemming from a poor control of food safety.
These stakeholders must take the necessary steps to put in place effective sustainable agriculture practices and safe food processing practices to ensure that food security and safety in Malaysia is never compromised.
DR MARIMUTHU NADASON is president of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca).