Pramod Koirala is the spokesperson for the department of food technology and quality control of Nepal. He was in Delhi recently to attend a media workshop on food safety and standards. Sonal Matharu questions him on the problems of food safety in Nepal.
How big is the problem of food contamination in Nepal and how is the government handling it?
Nepal is a food importing country. More than 60 per cent of the food is imported, as the food production industry is not strong. We also have difficult terrain so not many manufacturing units can be established. The challenge for us is how to monitor these imported food products. We have inadequate resources. The government spends not more than 0.1 per cent of the national budget on food safety. With such less money, we are not even able to even identify the problems we face on the issue of food safety.
What are the other problems that ail food safety authority in the country?
We have only five labs in the country for food testing and these too are poorly equipped. There is a severe problem of manpower. We only have 40 food inspectors. They cannot monitor the food supplied in the entire country. We are putting pressure on the government to strengthen the food safety department and allocate more money. We have our legislation in place. It is the enforcement that is a problem.
Does Nepal have standards in place for various food products?
We have standards for 130 commonly consumed products like rice, pulses and milk. When we export the products, we strictly abide by the standards of the importing countries.
Has food quality ever been a concern while exporting food from Nepal?
Nepal’s main export item is tea. We faced a setback recently when our tea was banned in Germany after they found pesticide residues in it. We have one of the best quality teas and most of the foreign currency comes into Nepal through tea export. Another item that we export, though in small proportion, is honey. We have lost ground in the international market because of honey laundering. Poor quality honey is being exported from China unethically and our country has suffered because of that. Coffee is another item of trade value. But it may contain pesticides that we cannot test.
What are the concerns regarding safety for products produced and consumed locally?
Pesticides in vegetables and tea produced by small-scale traders are a major concern. The local industry produces poor quality products since the manufacturers don’t have much to invest. These products may be contaminated. Even in milk and packaged drinking water, harmful microorganisms are found. Street food is totally unregulated.
Is the Nepal government planning to tie-up with any neighbouring country that can provide support to strengthen the country’s food technology and quality control department?
The Indian government is supporting us. We have got financial and technical support from the country. Majority of the staff in our food safety department are trained from India.