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New stat board Singapore Food Agency coming in April 2019; AVA will cease to exist

A NEW government agency will be formed on April 1 next year to oversee food safety and security, Singapore authorities announced on Thursday morning.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA), a statutory board, will come under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (Mewr) and will be taking over food-related work currently being done by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA).

The AVA will cease to exist from next April and its animal-related functions, such as animal welfare, will be transferred to the National Parks Board (NParks) under the Ministry of National Development (MND). 

The reorganisation will involve about 1,150 staff, said an MND spokesman. SFA will have about 850 staff, 600 of whom will come from the AVA, 220 from NEA and 30 from HSA. About 300 AVA staff will move to NParks.

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The SFA aims to deal with global food supply challenges caused by climate change but will also look to seize global opportunities in the food industry, said Mewr Minister Masagos Zulkifli, citing plankton blooms as an example of the effect of climate change. Plankton bloom threatens fish stocks as the micro-organisms suck oxygen from the water.

"The SFA will work closely with industry and research and development partners to develop new solutions and products," Mr Masagos said, adding that these include climate-resilient farming solutions and advanced food manufacturing techniques.

The agency also intends to improve food safety. Three agencies - AVA, NEA and HSA - currently regulate this across the food supply chain, but SFA will be the sole organisation doing so from next April.

"This enables the SFA to address lapses more quickly and more holistically, and streamline public feedback to one point of contact," Mewr and MND said in a joint statement.

SFA will take charge of managing food-borne disease outbreaks and coordinate product tracing and recall.

Mr Lim Kok Thai, chief executive of AVA, will be concurrently appointed chief executive (designate) of SFA before the changes take place next April.

The changes will also see NParks become the lead agency for animal and wildlife management, as well as animal and plant health.

"The transfer of AVA's plant- and animal-related functions will allow NParks to provide one-stop service to Singaporeans and stakeholders on animal management and animal welfare issues, manage human-animal interactions, and improve the detection of and response to zoonotic diseases," said the statement. Zoonotic diseases refer to those that spread from animals to humans.

NParks will also have a new Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) that will be in touch with pet owners and businesses as well as animal welfare groups.

Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee, who, like Mr Masagos, was quoted in the joint statement, said: "With NParks as the lead agency for animal and wildlife management, as well as animal and plant health, we will  work more closely with stakeholders to develop a science-based management approach, with holistic strategies and more effective responses."

MORE STREAMLINED LICENSING, DIRECT FEEDBACK CHANNEL

SFA will help food businesses streamline licensing processes and assist individuals in contacting the relevant authorities for their needs.

Currently, food retailers who wish to expand their operations in the food supply chain - for instance, to run a central kitchen - require different licences from the NEA and AVA. 

From next April, the licences will be obtained from a single source - the SFA - reducing the need for operators to deal with different agencies.

"By harmonising licensing standards and combining existing licences for food businesses, including farmers, food manufacturers, food retailers and food service operators, businesses will be able to adapt and transform their business models seamlessly and look at new ways to grow their operations," Mewr and MND said. 

In cases pertaining to food safety, all public feedback will be channelled to the SFA from next April. Currently, NEA, AVA and HSA regulate food safety across the food supply chain, which may cause confusion in the feedback process.

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