- Till now, the Export Promotion Bureau used to issue the health certificates based on lab test results of the products provided by the exporters
- Exporters had to conduct the tests, as requested by the importing countries, at various private labs
- Now, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority will collect samples, conduct tests and issue certificates all by itself upon fees provided by the exporters
Exporters of agro-processed food products now have to worry about one less problem as the government has assigned a single authority for issuing health certificates, declaring these products safe for human consumption, before sending them off to various export destinations.
The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has been assigned to issue the certificate upon testing samples of export products in its dedicated laboratories, a job which was haphazardly done by the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB) up until now.
AHM Ahsan, vice-chairman and CEO of the EPB, told The Business Standard (TBS) that the decision was reached at an inter-ministerial meeting held recently. Later, the BFSA issued a notification to inform traders about the shift in authority.
Exporters had to go through a bit of hassle about obtaining the health certificates, required by many importing countries in present days, as the EPB had no facilities to conduct the quality and health test of these products.
The exporting companies had to test the quality of these products by themselves at various private laboratories in and outside the country, before submitting the results to the EPB for final certification, a process that is neither helpful to exporters, nor to the importing countries.
A single authority from now on will collect samples of the export products from the ports, conduct the tests and issue the certificates. However, any product found to be a health hazard in the lab test will be grounded, according to sources at EPB and BFSA.
The EPB said not all processed food products require this certification and the type of test is subject to the requirements of importing countries.
Most European and Middle Eastern countries are now seeking certificates from a government agency to ensure that the products are free of microbial pathogens.
Marico Bangladesh Ltd is planning to export coconut oil to Pakistan and the Middle East but on condition of certification being provided by a government body guaranteeing that it is free of cholera bacteria. Coconut oil is used as a food product in those countries.
Two more companies want to export sesame oil to the European market but the condition of European importers is that there cannot be any microbial residue in this oil and a credible certificate must be given to this end.
According to sources at the Ministry of Food, various microbial pathogens, including heavy metal contamination and pesticide residue, were found in Bangladeshi agro-processed products in different countries.
Sweden recently detected pesticide residues in aromatic rice and puffed rice exported by two Bangladeshi companies, which led to a negative branding of both products in the European market and prompted the government to appoint a single authority to resolve these quality issues of export products.
Prof Dr Md Abdul Alim, a member (Food Industry and Production) of the BFSA, told TBS that the national food safety regulatory agency held a meeting with exporters of processed food last Monday (7 November) and it will formally start issuing health certificates on Sunday.
Sanitary officers will collect random samples when the product is loaded into the container for export. The samples will be sealed and sent to the laboratory. Certificates will be issued promptly after necessary tests and the products will be cleared for shipment, he said.
A copy of the health certificate will be uploaded to the BFSA website immediately after the test so that the relevant authority of the importing country and the importing organisation can be sure about the certificates' authenticity, Abdul Alim said.
However, the lab test fee and sample transportation cost have to be borne by the exporting company, the BFSA member added.
Kamruzzaman Kamal, director (Marketing) of Pran-RFL Group, told TBS, "Many countries require certification against certain products to be sure about health hazards. It will be beneficial for us if the BFSA issues this certificate through lab testing because we have to go to different labs in the country and abroad for this."
The BFSA also held a meeting with officials of various labs, including of the Atomic Energy Centre, Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), SGS Bangladesh Ltd and Waffen Research Lab to ensure speedy test results.
At this meeting, the representatives of the labs said that a service agreement should be formulated for quick lab tests of the export products.
The market of agro-processed products is expanding fast both in domestic and export markets. Some of the products Bangladesh export include pickles, spices, aromatic rice, fine rice, tea, chanachur, peanuts, mustard oil, biscuits, puffed rice, flattened rice, flour, ghee, noodles, and vermicelli.
Bangladesh exported agricultural and agro-processed products worth $1162.25 million in the financial year 2021-22 to different countries.