There has been debate on the merits and potential impediments of the recently introduced crop regulations.
It is important to recognise that the purpose of the 2019 Crops (Food crops) Regulations is to protect public health and consumer interest.
The rules apply to all stages of production, processing and distribution of food and feed with the exception of household activities.
Food safety is important in order to protect consumers from the risk of illnesses and health–related conditions such as allergy.
Ensuring safety is increasingly important due to changing food habits, globalisation and establishments of mass catering outlets.
We grow and sell food under different conditions. We also import considerable amounts of food, including sugar, fish, eggs, and fruits.
We have had complaints of mercury in sugar, importing sub-standard food items as well as fake fertiliser.
It has therefore become necessary to introduce regulations that promote good agricultural practices, remove mischief as well as the free-for-all chaotic situation in the domestic food market.
The purpose of public regulations is to provide protocols, procedures and agricultural practices on how food should be produced, harvested, processed, packaged and marketed in order to protect human and animal health from food-borne risks, plant-carried diseases, animals and plants from pests or diseases and the environment from harmful practices.
The rules are necessary in order to make operational other legislative measures in the food industry such as the Crops Act which became effective in August 2014.
This law repealed previous legislative provisions that were considered inconsistent with emerging trends in the food industry.
In order to pave the way for a new framework, a number of institutions had to be wound up, including Kenya Sugar Board, Tea Board of Kenya, Coffee Board of Kenya, Horticultural Crops Development Authority and Kenya Coconut Development Authority.
Kenya has to benchmark its regulations to be in line with global standards as provided for under World Trade Organisation.
FOOD SAFETY PROTOCALS
The WTO sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS) agreement covers technical regulations, voluntary standards and the procedures for global trade.
These rules relate to labelling, nutrition claims and concerns and quality and packaging regulations.
They also address microbiological contamination of food, allowable levels of pesticide, permitted food additives and packaging requirements.
We should not lose sight of the challenges the production and export of agricultural commodities have experienced, particularly with regard to the European markets since early 1980s.
There were food-borne disease outbreaks in Europe linked to products originating from developing countries.
These included salmonella outbreak in the UK in 1989, bacteria (e. coli) in fast food hamburgers in the US in 1993 and dioxin contamination of animal feed in Belgium in 1999.
Many supermarkets in developed countries responded by changing the regulatory and food demand conditions.
Many countries have harmonised their food safety regulations largely due to consumer pressure and protection of brand image.
Major retailers demand that products comply with food safety protocols in addition to meeting global standards.
Some private industry standards deal with even more stringent rules. For example, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) deals with child labour, environmental concerns of carbon footprints, adequate remuneration and provision of health care and retirement benefits.
We have seen these in the coffee, tea and horticultural industries in Kenya Colombia, India and Sri Lanka.
What is required is enhanced capacity to promote industry self-regulation, greater institutional co-ordination and commitment to eliminate trade in sub-standard food.