Owners and representatives of more than 30 small and medium agri-food enterprises from Myanmar joined the Food Safety Learning Event on New Product Labeling Guidelines for Processed Agri-food held on September 26. Organized under Mekong Institute’s Food Safety Project with the support of the New Zealand Aid Programme, the one-day event sought to serve as a platform to present the updated food labeling guidelines in Myanmar as well as discuss opportunities and challenges in enforcing these new requirements.
In her welcome remarks, Ms. Maria Theresa Medialdia, Director of MI’s Agricultural Development and Commercialization Department, highlighted that Myanmar, just like its neighboring ASEAN countries, still heavily relies on its agriculture sector. Many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the region need further support to build their knowledge and skills to produce more high value products. Ms. Medialdia noted that proper food labeling is important as it ensures that crucial product information are provided, ultimately benefitting consumers and other key actors in the food supply chain. Aside from improving food quality and safety, instituting accurate and attractive product labels can strengthen the competitiveness of food businesses, especially among agri-food SMEs.
U Ye Htut Naing, Director of the Ministry of Commerce’s Department of Consumer Affairs, was also present to discuss the updated product labeling regulations outlined in the Chapter 18 of the Consumer Protection Law 2019. One of the key focus areas of the new law is promoting stronger compliance on appropriate product labeling, especially among agri-food enterprises. After the presentation, local food safety experts and business sector representatives shared their perspectives on the new regulations as well as on Myanmar SMEs’ potentials, problems, and needs in improving product quality and safety. Among those in the panel were U Thin Maung Myint of the Myanmar Food Processors and Exporters Association; Dr. Hla Aung of Myanmar Fruit, Flower, and Vegetable Producers and Exporters Association; as well as Daw Tin Swe Aye and Daw Win Win Kyi of the Myanmar Food Science and Technology Association.
One of the key issues raised in the discussion is the need to review how the new regulations complement existing local food safety policies, especially those that are enforced by the Department of Food and Drug Administration, the primary agency mandated to promote food safety in the country. Furthermore, information about the new guidelines has yet to be fully disseminated. More public consultation and awareness-raising initiatives need to be conducted, especially among small local food businesses in Myanmar.
In the afternoon, U Thura Kyaw, one of the MI-trained safe food trainers, provided a short lecture on key food safety concepts, especially those related to proper food labeling and shelf life determination. After, the invited SME representatives were asked to share their experiences, showcase their products, and seek on-site advice and feedback from experts on how to improve their product packaging and labeling.