Ensuring food safety in Singapore is far from an easy task, especially with a long and complex food supply chain. At the heart of this, along with farmers, are vets from the Singapore Food Agency, as they strive to ensure food safety through good veterinary practices at farms.
When it comes to strengthening the nation’s food security, Singapore knows better than to put all its eggs in one basket. In fact, our multi-pronged approach means that Singapore today imports its food from more than 170 countries and regions. This is complemented by another 260 local farms producing eggs, fish, and vegetables.
With our food coming from such a wide range of sources, stringent import controls, good farm practices, and effective disease prevention and control measures are crucial to minimising food safety risks in our diverse supply chain. These measures also prevent animal diseases from being introduced into our local farms, which can reduce farm production and have an impact on Singapore’s food supply. Many of these efforts involve a team of highly trained vets at the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
Going beyond Singapore: SFA’s veterinary officers
Employing a science and risk-based approach, SFA vets ensure the safety of food in Singapore by auditing and evaluating the veterinary services and veterinary public health conditions of potential source countries, inspecting and accrediting overseas establishments, and responding to animal and foodborne disease outbreaks.
As Dr Wong Yelin, Director of the Risk Management & Surveillance Department, shares, “Accreditation of high-risk food products such as meat and eggs before they are allowed for import into Singapore is required as these products can carry food safety risks and animal diseases.
“We liaise with overseas food safety and animal health authorities who are interested to export such products to Singapore. As part of the approval process, we may conduct on-site inspections of overseas farms and slaughterhouses. Through this, we can determine the country’s regulatory standards.”
A vet from SFA conducting an inspection at an Indonesian chicken egg farm: To diversify Singapore’s chicken supply sources, a team from SFA visited Indonesia to audit the country’s food safety and animal health controls. As part of their trip, they inspected farms, quarantine stations and laboratories to better understand the regulatory systems in place.
Healthy animals are key to safe food – and sustainable farming
At the same time, the SFA veterinary team plays a critical role in animal health and welfare at our local farms. Working closely with farms, the vets ensure good farm practices are adopted and robust disease prevention and control measures are in place to keep the animals healthy.
A disease prevention card on Monogenean parasites developed by SFA’s vets to advise farmers on basic disease identification and treatment methods
“Healthy animals are essential to wholesome meat and fish production,” Dr Cai Panqin, Deputy Director of the Regulatory Standards & Veterinary Office, explains. “Not only do healthy animals make safe food, they are also necessary for sustainable and productive farming that is critical to strengthening Singapore’s food security as well as farms’ business resilience.”
A multi-agency collaboration to contain animal disease outbreaks
SFA’s vets play a key role in the early detection of animal disease outbreaks and work closely with the affected farms and other government agencies, such as the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) at the National Parks Board, to investigate and contain the disease to safeguard food safety.
Earlier this year, SFA’s vets were alerted to assist in containing an outbreak of Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV), a viral disease in domestic poultry and wild birds which affects egg production. The vets conducted on-farm investigations together with counterparts from AVS to gather information and take samples for lab analysis to identify the cause. They also provided advice to the egg farms on the measures to prevent the introduction and spread of disease, such as stepping up on biosecurity measures, cleaning and disinfection, and vaccination practices. As a result of the prompt response and close collaboration, egg production returned to normal within 3 months.
The SFA team is complemented by vets in the private sector as well.
Working in close partnership: SFA conducts frequent engagements with the industry, such as the Vets Day Out in May 2022 (above). Such engagements allow for the active exchange of information, such as updates in animal health and local food safety laws, as well as the early detection, surveillance, and treatment of animal diseases.
Recently, SFA launched a tender for Aquatic Animal Health Services (AAHS). Through AAHS, aquaculture farms can consult private vets and other animal health professionals on disease management and support them in their laboratory testing needs. AAHS is aimed at helping aquaculture farms obtain diagnoses that are scientifically verified, allowing them to adopt better disease management practices for their aquatic animal stock– steps that could eventually translate to improvements in farm biosecurity management and more sustainable, productive fish farming. The four-year long service is expected to start from early 2023 and farmers can approach their account managers to register their interest.
An integral part of Singapore’s food story
Besides putting boots on the ground, the SFA veterinary team also perform work such as conducting risk analysis and developing policies and regulatory requirements for the local farming industry.
As Dr Tan Qinghui, Assistant Director at the Regulatory Standards & Veterinary Office, describes, “From disease outbreak investigations on farms to policy development and representing SFA in international forums, our work is diverse and interesting. In fact, it is hard to describe a typical workday for us as the work is so varied”.
“I can be out at a cattle or chicken egg farm in the morning, back to the office in the afternoon to work on a paper or attend a meeting, and out at an abattoir the next day,” she shares.
Yet, even with a robust food safety system in place, food safety hazards will always remain an ever-present threat, especially in the face of climate change and Singapore’s complex food supply chain. To keep food safe for Singapore, local farms need to work hand in hand with SFA to keep food safety hazards in check through good farm practices and disease prevention measures. Consumers can also do their part by equipping themselves with knowledge of food safety risks and adopting good food safety practices.
As Dr Cai points out, “It is through the years of close partnership and trust built between SFA and the industry that we continue to keep Singapore free of menacing animal diseases like bird flu, African Swine Fever and mad cow disease. I see the fruits of our labour in Singapore’s reputation as a food paradise, where everyone, young or old, can enjoy safe, wholesome food with peace of mind”.
This feature focuses on the lesser-known stories of SFA officers at work in our mission to ensure a safe and sustainable food supply – in celebration of our parent ministry, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment’s 50th anniversary this year.
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© 2022 Singapore Food Agency
Last updated on Tuesday, April 14, 2020