JOHOR BAHRU: Malaysia's exporters of vegetables and fruits are finding it difficult to meet a May 1 deadline imposed by the Health Ministry for safety certification before they can transport their produce to Singapore.
Last year, Malaysia had suggested "requiring exporters of its agricultural produce to register with its Ministry of Health", said the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) in response to CNA's queries on Tuesday (Apr 30).
"AVA (Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority) had requested Malaysia to provide more details of the proposed plan for further discussion but no further details have been received," SFA said.
However, Malaysia's Deputy Health Minister Lee Boon Chye told CNA the requirement of MyFood Tag for produce due for Singapore was a request from the Singapore authorities.
According to him, SFA had decided on this MyFood Tag requirement in 2017. He added that this will only apply to fresh vegetables and fruits at the moment.
“Ensuring food safety is the responsibility and authority of importing nations. Malaysia and Singapore have agreements to mutually recognise (the) certification authority in both countries,” he said.
“While it is a voluntary certification, produce without MyFood Tag will not be allowed to enter Singapore,” he said.
Every successful certification is valid for three years, Dr Lee added.
MALAYSIA'S TRADERS SEEKING DEADLINE EXTENSION
Come next month, all exporters must possess the MyFood Tag certification, or risk having their produce rejected at the checkpoints.
Industry players are asking for an extension to the deadline to sort out their certification, adding that not all exporters are aware of the requirement.
Federation of Malaysian Vegetable Farmers Association President Tan So Tiok told CNA that while MyFood Tag is not a new certification scheme, exporters transporting their produce to Singapore were only informed of the need to be certified early this year.
He said the tight deadline and lack of awareness for MyFood Tag have compounded the problem.
“I do not have the exact figures, but I know some proprietors are still in the midst of applying for the certification. The process takes time as it involves site visits from the authorities to ascertain hygiene practices, etc,” he said.
Mr Tan said while he believed most exporters in Johor were aware of the requirement, farmers and exporters further away, such as Cameron Highlands, were still clueless about MyFood Tag.
About a quarter of the vegetables grown in Malaysia are exported to Singapore, he said.
“The ministry is probably dealing with a surge in MyFood Tag applications right now. We hope the deadline can be extended by another two months,” Mr Tan said.
On the ministry website, MyFood Tag is described as a mechanism to strengthen food safety control and traceability in the food supply chain. The certification process audits the production, storage, transport, processing and distribution of food items.
As of Jan 31, a total of 123 companies nationwide have successfully obtained MyFood Tag, ministry data showed.
Mr Tan said the MyFood Tag requirement would also affect exporters who do not operate physical storage infrastructure. "Some use lorries to pick up vegetables and fruits from farmers and send the produce straight to Singapore. They won't be able to obtain MyFood Tag," he said.
Malaysia is Singapore’s top source of vegetables and fruits. According to SFA statistics, Malaysia supplies 69 per cent of the imported leafy vegetables and 37 per cent of imported fruits in Singapore.