Ensuring a satisfactory supply of medicines and food for all its population is an important issue for any country in the world. However, for the developing countries sometimes it may become difficult to meet this requirement. Developing countries may face all kind of specific problems, from dealing with a economy in crisis to environmental issues. Due to their low economical power, these countries have a hard time solving their problems. For this reason, the issue of ensuring proper medicines and foods supplies for developing countries is one of the key priorities of an equitable world economy in the context of an increasing globalization.

Among the responsibilities of any government is to ensure that the medical and food supply meets certain standards for quality and safety. These standards may be regulated at a national level or they are inspired from the international standards in place. By using international norms trade is also facilitated.

Some of these standards are set by private corporations and organizations, others are set into a country’s legal code. The regulatory authority in any country has the responsibility to set and enforce these standards that establish codified requirements and norms for medical and food products. By using these standards it becomes easier to trace products through the supply chain. This also harmonize across markets, eliminates redundant audits and decreases bureaucracy.

However, some analysts see the international standards for quality and safety of medicines and food supplies nothing more than a means to fine on poor countries. For these developing countries it may become very costly to comply with the international standards. But if a developing country intends to introduce its goods into the global marketplace then it has no choice than to adhere to international quality assurance norms for its regulated products.

Developing countries are usually low and middle income countries. For them, adherence to international standards in the agri-food industry may become a real problem. For their large domestic market these countries more often do not enforce a stringent regulation or assurance of minimal pesticide residues, for example. Because these countries still struggle to feed their citizens they may seen frivolous the concerns to reduce pesticide in comparison to hunger. For their poor people the threat of immediate death from starvation would make insignificant the theoretical concern about cancer risks in 50 years. For example, in China, for example, the regulatory authorities made food safety an official priority just for the past 12 years. In such a large country it is particularly difficult to enforce the 200 million farmers on respecting good agricultural practices. The same challenge goes for China’s cottage industry food processers estimated at a number of roughly 400,000.

Most often, the involvement of the institutions from developing countries in organizations setting the international standard is just nominal. The poorest developing countries do not have representatives with the expertise required in order to participate in standard setting meetings. Sometimes logistical constraints make participation in these meetings even more complicate. For regulatory agencies in poor countries it might be difficult to fund expensive international travel. In conclusion, it might be just too expensive for most of the developing countries to adhere to international standards. For developing countries, the problems of adhering to international standards in the medical industry are in many ways similar to those in the food industry.

For this reason, the World Trade Organization called for donor developed countries to help in improving developing countries adherence to international sanitary standards. Charitable organization, NGOs and developed countries have also take initiatives to provide international aid in medicines and foods supplies for developing countries affected by environmental disasters and calamities such as earthquakes or floods.

In the meantime, the inability of poor developing countries to adhere to international quality and safety standards deepens market inequalities. Agricultural products from developing countries are often subject of border rejections. Some estimations indicate that because of its failure to meet standards, China alone has lost more than 8 billion dollars in export income only in the year 2002.

For some of the least developed countries, access to export market could greatly improve their economies. Adhering to international standards would have many health and social benefits for them. For example, in countries without strict food standards, it is estimated that the food contaminant called alfatoxin accounts for between 25,200 and155,000 cases of liver cancer a year. The foodborne Saalmonella infections kill an estimated 155,000 people globally, each year.


Robert Gombos

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