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Economy

State plans a food safety agency as alerts increase

maize drying
Farmers spread maize to dry in Kibwezi, Makueni County. Researchers say spreading grains on the ground raises risk of contamination. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya has announced plans to establish a specialised agency to ensure safety of farm produce on sale in the local market, amid rising cases of food contamination.

The agency will particularly be tasked with checking the quality of farm produce and levels of harmful chemical residues in goods offered for sale by mama mbogas (vegetable vendors) and other outlets.

Crops and Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga said the ministries of Agriculture and Health were putting in place a food safety agency to address growing consumer concerns about food safety and ensure produce meant for local consumption are as safe as those destined for export.

The country already has the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) to perform the roles. But much attention has been given to export produce which attract rigorous checks to ensure safe limits of chemical residues lest the overseas markets ban them.

“Most of the focus in the past have been on export but not on the local market. But the complexity of the issues that we deal with in food have outgrown public health, which checks on safety locally. We need a multi- agency to be able to deliver the full mandate,” he said.

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Kenya has been grappling with increasing cases of aflatoxin contamination of grains, something that has seen Kebs suspend seven brands of maize flour and seven brands of peanut butter. It is also believed that most of the green maize, ground nuts and other cereals being bought in the open air markets are contaminated. Also on the watch list are the open-air market fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Prof Boga, who was speaking during the opening of the Global Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) conference on food security, said consumers must be assured of the safety of food following recent warnings.

He said buyers have certain expectations and that food safety had emerged to be key concern in recent days.

“Consumers in the local market have started demanding quality and safe food. We therefore need to build farmers’ capcity to produce and compete in both the local and global markets,” he said.

He said the deliberations from the Global GAP conference would help in capacity- building to ensure farmers are able to meet global agreements on how best to grow quality and safe food.

Over 500 industry players in the crops sector dealing with production and export of fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts and related sub-sectors took part in the event.

The conference has been organised by an international food safety certification body, Global GAP and Rootooba, a Kenyan- based farm that supports agriculture in the country.

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