Before the pilot programme, to obtain a Food Export Certificate, every export consignment must undergo sampling and laboratory testing.
AVA regulates and facilitates the export and trans-shipment of food. Relevant licences and permits must be obtained before meat, fish, and eggs can be exported or trans-shipped. In addition, importing countries may require consignments to be accompanied by official food export documents. Thus, AVA also issues Export Health Certificates for meat, fish, and dairy products; Food Export (FoodEx) Certificates for processed products; and Free Sale Certificates.
The issuance of FoodEx Certificates involves booking of appointments, as well as waiting and paying for AVA to inspect, collect samples, and conduct laboratory testing of samples from all export consignments. As part of our regular review of our programmes, and taking into consideration industry’s feedback, a FoodEx accreditation scheme was piloted in May 2017.
Benefits of pilot scheme
Under the pilot scheme, AVA accredits companies that maintain robust internal controls and food safety standards. Accredited exporters need not have every export consignment inspected and/or sampled for testing in order for AVA’s FoodEx Certificates to be issued. As a result, accredited establishments enjoy savings in:
- Costs for inspection and laboratory tests, which are no longer required. The need and cost for storage is also reduced, as products can move out faster without having to wait for inspection.
- Time required to obtain the FoodEx Certificate is reduced to three working days from 10-14 days.
In cases where importing countries do not recognise this accreditation scheme, the usual inspection, sampling, and testing process will apply. Currently, two companies – Meiji Sekia and Nestlé Singapore – are accredited under the scheme. To date, importing countries have responded well to this pilot. Both companies have been able to successfully export their consignments to China, India, Indonesia, Cyprus, Spain, Arab states, and African Union member states, within a shorter time-frame.
According to Meiji Sekia’s Quality Control Manager Mr Chew Keng Guan, it used to take longer to apply for FoodEx certification. Now, the pilot scheme “has improved the process cycle time, as we no longer need to wait for an AVA officer to come and collect samples of our consignments,” Mr Chew said.
Quality Assurance Manager for Nestlé Singapore, Ms Lisa Low, also appreciates the benefits of the pilot scheme: “We are very happy with it, as it has helped our multiple departments save time.”
A timely initiative
This FoodEx initiative earned AVA the 2017 Pro-Enterprise Panel-Singapore Business Federation (PEP-SBF) Award for Best Suggestion (Supporting Agency). The Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association (SFMA), which mooted the feedback on FoodEx certification, took home the PEP-SBF Award for Best Suggestion (Suggestor) [sic]. This award category recognises private-public collaborations that led to changes in rules and regulations.
At the PEP-SBF Awards Ceremony on 10 Nov 2017: (L-R) SFMA President Mr Thomas Pek; Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Ms Low Yen Ling; AVA Director for Surveillance & Compliance Department (Food Establishment Regulation Group) Ms Shirley Chua; and AVA officers.
SFMA President Mr Thomas Pek feels that this pilot scheme is timely, given the business environment that food manufacturers currently operate in. “In the global food trading business, we are seeing increased competition from exporters in other countries who are constantly improving their products and food safety standards. They are moving faster and operating at lower costs. With reduced fees and time required to obtain the FoodEx Certificate, we will have a better chance at keeping this industry alive and thriving. AVA has shown that it is nimble and active in helping the industry do better.”
As an industry leader, Mr Pek also urged accredited members under the FoodEx pilot scheme to remain prudent and responsible in upholding food safety standards. He said, “Singapore’s food safety system and exports are trusted worldwide. It is crucial that we do not tarnish our own good reputation.”
AVA is looking to extend this pilot to more traders, as this will allow a representative sample of data to be collected and studied. Thereafter, we will fine-tune the scheme so that the certification process is recognised by more importing countries. AVA will also continue to co-regulate with accredited members of the pilot scheme to ensure that exports meet all food safety standards and requirements.