IAEA and FAO support projects in Pakistan and Benin

Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

A lab in Pakistan supported by the IAEA and FAO has earned International Organization for Standardization (ISO) accreditation.

This is expected to contribute to increased meat exports thanks to food safety certificates the Pakistani Veterinary Residue Laboratory in Faisalabad will now be able to issue. 

Pakistan did not previously have the capacity to test meat and other products for veterinary drug residues to ensure the residues do not exceed safety or reference limits.

Training at EU labs

The certificate is valid for three years for seven types of antibiotics and hormone analyses in food products. Pakistan now has the capacity to process over a thousand food samples each year.

The IAEA’s technical cooperation programme provided equipment and supported training at European reference labs to assist with implementing measurement protocols and methods as well as technical advice.

Researchers at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s labs in Seibersdorf, Austria assisted the Pakistani lab on performing tests to certify the safety of food.

Ahmad Waqar, who is in charge of the cooperation at the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the IAEA, said the country produces meat and other animal products.

“In the past, Pakistan has had exports rejected because they did not comply with the food safety standards of importing countries. This resulted in safety concerns, significant economic losses and food waste.”

It is common practice to give animals medicines to keep them healthy rather than treat disease when it occurs. If drugs remain in the animals, residues may end up in food and pose a health hazard to consumers.

“From a food safety point of view, problems especially arise when farmers do not have correct advice on what drug to buy and use, or do not follow instructions on how, when and how much to administer or how long to wait until the drugs have cleared out of the animal’s body,” said James Jacob Sasanya, food safety specialist at the Joint FAO/IAEA division of nuclear techniques in food and agriculture.

Sheep products used to make sausages are one of the key exports and are monitored by 13 quarantine centers in Pakistan.

“In the absence of its own national analytical capabilities, tests had to be outsourced to other countries, which is both expensive and time-consuming. With this new achievement, Pakistan can now rely on its own analytical capabilities,” added Sasanya.

Monitoring system for ethephon

Meanwhile, Benin’s farmers can restart pineapple export to the European Union following the creation of a surveillance system.

Pineapple farmers suffered a voluntary export ban last year due to chemical residues in exports.

Farmers use ethephon to give pineapples a yellow outside colour. Benin did not have a monitoring system for such residues and sampling in Europe revealed a concentration over twice the threshold set by the EU.

As farmers could not use the chemical European clients refused to buy their green pineapples.

Benin produces 400 to 450 thousand tons of pineapples a year. Though overseas exports made up only 2% of production, they accounted for half of the sector’s profits, said Xavier Satola, a pineapple farmer and president of the Benin Pineapple Exporters Association.

“Instead of tripling exports in line with the plan, our European sales ground to a halt. Without exports there is no sustainable production: it is like a locomotive that pulls the entire train.”

The government’s Central Laboratory of Food Safety Control (LCSSA) turned to the IAEA and the FAO to put in place the analytical techniques and surveillance system required to monitor residues and certify they meet the European Union’s requirement on ethephon.

The agencies supported the lab with equipment and reagents and helped train seven LCSSA staff in labs in Belgium, Botswana, the Czech Republic and Morocco. 

Certification from a European lab showing the monitoring system meets EU standards was achieved in May.

Specialists at the LCSSA use nuclear and isotopic techniques for testing samples for contaminants and residues from pesticides such as radio receptor assays and liquid chromatography.

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