“Punjab Food Authority’s crusades inspire KP; Who is next?”

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News analysis|

The dairy industry in Punjab is demanding what it calls “harmonized national standards” for food products all across Pakistan. The administrative and legal changes set into motion after the 18th amendment has created myriad nature of challenges for the industry – the overzealous nature of Punjab Food Authority (PFA) best illustrates these challenges.

Read more: Punjab Food Authority on a Mission

GVS spoke to several insiders, after the recent crackdown by Punjab Food Authority (PFA) against the restaurants and coffee shops in Lahore and an interesting and much wider picture of PFA crusades emerges. Given that now province of KP, run by PTI, has also legislated a similar Food Authority, the industry is panicking – and for good reasons.

The Dairy and Beverage industry demands “harmonized national standards” all across Pakistan.

In August this year, PFA proposed to Punjab government that beverages should not be sold inside the canteens of schools, colleges, and universities. The industry could understand the PFA imposing standards regarding schools, but found inclusion of “Colleges” and “Universities” strange and something that could adversely affect their revenues. But PFA also proposed that no beverages should be sold within 100 meters of educational institutions.

“PFA forgot that most educational institutions across Punjab exist in crowded streets and shops selling beverages exist in every street” a beverage industry executive argued. If PFA recommendations were implemented, the whole market structure, the relation and the nature of the transaction between a high street vendor and the ordinary consumer would have radically changed.  Industry rallied and warned Punjab government that it will have no option but to shut down its plants across Punjab. Intervention by CM Punjab saved the day.

Mr. Mengal confirmed: “I belong to Baluchistan. I have no issues in reporting there. But the decision rests with the Punjab government.”

The Punjab Food Authority was created in 2011. It was a product of 18th Amendment, that devolved “standards” to provinces. This subject was previously dealt by the PSQA (Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority) which works under Ministry of Science & Technology and is responsible for maintaining connect with global standards. PFA now sets its own standards, which are not only different but sometimes may even contradict the standards set by the federal government, leading to confusion and increased work for the producers.

This confusion multiplies if a Pakistani producer has to export a product. Punjab Food Authority (PFA) will issue its own ‘Certificate of Compliance”; however foreign importers require a certificate from Pakistan’s federal government – since the federal government is responsible for maintaining compliance with global standards.

Read more: Soft drinks to be banned in schools

The provincial food watchdog maintains its own “technical committee” and that committed keeps on calling industry representatives but then decides on its own. Its decisions can shock industry; in 2013, it decided that popular dairy product “Omung” is not even an “actual milk”

The industry rumor mill also says that the DG has recruited all of 300 wrestlers or ‘bouncers’.

Punjab being a predominantly agricultural hub relies heavily on its dairy production. The Dairy Industry, however, is not happy. “The policies of PFA are eccentric,” an official of the Dairy association told GVS, “primary problem we face is setting of provincial standards, by PFA, if other provinces like KP and Sindh followed Punjab then we will be doomed”.

Food and beverage industry executives argue that “the whole world is conforming to harmonized standards, as it facilitates trade, and here we are, setting provincial standards which need to be approved before we can even get to a national level” Executive argued that, if this continued,  “competing at the international level will become literally impossible.”

The Director General, Mr. Mengal was requisitioned by the Establishment division in August 2017.

The Director-General of the PFA Noor Ul Amin Mengal, a BPS 19 officer, took charge last year when former Director Ayesha Mumtaz stepped down upon corruption charges. Noor Ul Amin Mengal has served as Deputy Commissioner Faisalabad and Lahore and is said to be a close aide of the provincial interior and law minister Rana Sana Ullah. He is also said to be a favorite of the Chief Minister Mian Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif and his son Hamza Shahbaz; who owns a massive dairy business.

The DG is credited to have extracted Rs.2.7 billion worth of funds for various initiatives and has been vigorously active against what he calls substandard food supplies. Industry insiders claim that DG PFA has recently ordered that any citizen of Pakistan can demand to inspect a food place, which may look reasonable theoretically but is a policy that is fraught with practical problems and has a huge potential for abuse. But the industry rumor mill also says that the DG has recruited all of 300 wrestlers or ‘bouncers’ for coping with resistance that the PFA inspection teams face from suppliers and businessmen around the province.

Read more: World Health Organization Urges Countries to Tax Sugary Drinks to Fight…

The Director-General, Mr. Mengal was requisitioned by the Establishment division in August 2017 and asked to report to the Baluchistan bureaucracy but the Punjab government isn’t willing to let him go. The establishment division was sent a retraction by the Punjab government to cancel the transfer. The center has not yet responded to the request and hence Mr. Mengal has retained his position. Speaking to a media outlet Mr. Mengal confirmed: “I belong to Baluchistan. I have no issues in reporting there. But the decision rests with the Punjab government. We have some projects going on and I cannot leave midway”

KP creates its own Food Authority; Will Sindh follow?

Inspired by the Punjab Food Authority’s fame as a strict regulator the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has also created a provincial food authority. KP Food Authority has been legislated and Mr.Atta ur Rehman has been appointed its DG. Although its inspectorate is not yet in operation, the Director-General Mr. Atta Ur Rehman is said to be a great admirer of the Noor Ul Ameen Mengal of Punjab.

KP Food Authority has been legislated and Mr.Atta ur Rehman has been appointed its DG.

“He will act along the same lines” A dairy industry executive expressed his fear. “If there are different food standards in every province, how will we trade inter-provincially?” This is now the question on the minds of industry executives. “In Europe, the authorities are harmonizing standards on an international scale for swifter trade., and here we are, gridlocked in inter-provincial discord, making national losses”, he added.

Which province the PFA will inspire next remains yet to be seen. But the Dairy and Beverage industry wants a solution before Sindh joins Punjab and KP. It demands “harmonized national standards” all across Pakistan.

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