New food agency will better support entrepreneurship, boost efficiency: Industry players

New food agency will better support entrepreneurship, boost efficiency: Industry players

SINGAPORE: The formation of the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has been welcomed by the industry, which said that the new statutory board would better support the local food sector and help boost its efficiency.

The SFA, which will oversee food safety and security, will be set up under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) in April next year. It will bring together food-related functions currently carried out by three other agencies - the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

Speaking to reporters on the sideline of a visit to The Soup Spoon on Thursday (Jul 26), Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said the SFA would better "integrate" the food industry.

"This will bring together various parts of these agencies to look at food from farm to fork and this will integrate the industry and as well as support them in order to take advantages that's available to our food industry."

George Huang, chairman of the recently formed Singapore Agro-Food Enterprises Federation (SAFEF), said the formation of SFA would better facilitate the process of farmers applying for various licenses.

"From the farmers' point of view, I think it is a very good move," said Mr Huang. "Now we have an organisational body that covers the whole supply chain ... It will be much more efficient and support entrepreneurship much more."

"For example, Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) (currently) takes care of farm licenses, but if for example a fish farm wants to sell fish on the farm premises, it falls under retail, which is under the NEA."

"The issue is not getting the license - Singapore is quite efficient and so is the NEA. The thing is that the rules might not be totally aligned," added Mr Huang. "One deals with farming and the other with retailing. There might be some grey areas or gaps in between."

Jocelyn Chng, chief executive officer of JR Group Holdings, which operates restaurants and hot-food vending machines among others, agreed that the formation of the SFA would streamline the process of applying for the relevant licences.

Jr Group vending machine
JR Group vending machine cafes. (Photo: Lee Li Ying) 

Currently, food retail businesses are licensed by the National Environment Agency (NEA), but those who wish to run a central kitchen require a different licence from the AVA. 

"It will be more efficient, because we don't need to go to two authorities or agencies to get clearance and approval," she added. "With this one single agency, in terms of the regulations, the officers or the agency will be very clear in what they are offering.

"There's also more clarity. We know where to go and which agency to approach. Thirdly, we will also get better support, assuming there are licensing officers who know our businesses well, they will be able to support us better."

The hope is that these changes would also lead to greater savings for companies such as JR Group, Ms Chng said.

"That will be a win-win for everyone," she added.

While Mr Shannon Lim, who operates a fish farm off Lorong Halus, welcomed the announcement, he also hoped that SFA would be able to better allocate resources, including manpower to help local farmers.

"(It's a) good idea," said Mr Lim, explaining that the AVA was "always stretched too thin". 

Mr Lim said that he has yet to receive a mandatory fish culture farm worker identification card for one of his employees, despite getting it approved in February.

"We tried to collect (it) at their office in June. They said it wasn’t ready yet," he added. "A more focused agency should be able to allocate resources better."

But apart from resource management, Mr Huang hopes that the SFA would help farmers in the export of their produce. 

"We have to increase Singapore's capabilities, such that our products are of international standards, that it is exportable - that's where you get a higher value of Singapore branding."

Source: CNA/mt(ms)