Challenges of developing an integrated food control system for South Africa : insights from the veterinary drug and residue regulatory system.
Food is a complex commodity. Ingredients are farmed and harvested then processed and combined into a variety of foods of different forms and packaged in an equal variety of ways to satisfy a multitude of tastes, textures, colours and smells. The entire food production chain is therefore a means to satisfy a continual demand by the consumer for an essential commodity. Together with the demand of the access to food by consumers is the demand of the assurance that is it safe to consume. This is however the challenge with food production, as by its very nature, food is prone to contamination, whether it is microbial, chemical or physical. Food must also be of adequate quality to impart nutritional value to consumers. To ensure that food is both safe and of sufficient quality requires a regulatory framework from Government which provides for functions and structures within Government to check and ensure adequate safety and quality of foods. This regulation or control is referred to as food control. In essence, food control regulates the food production chain which is a continuous process from the agricultural stage to processing, packaging and finally consumption. Although the food production chain is continuous, food control may always not mirror the continuity of the production chain and functions can be separated between various government authorities. Should this be the case, and when there is no concerted action to make the various parts of the system work together, the system becomes fragmented. A fragmented system is an oxymoron because a system by definition infers that functions are integrated and coordinated. These two principles of a system are core requirements for the philosophy of systems thinking which is applied in this study. Systems thinking seeks to understand and improve functioning of various systems which include designed systems like food control systems. Application of systems thinking to food control systems infers that each function carried out within the system whether carried out by one authority or many are still part of the same system and therefore must be coordinated and integrated to be regarded as a functioning system. Application of systems thinking to food control systems and in particular the South African food control system is relevant in light of the reported fragmentation of the system and the widespread challenges that fragmentation is purported to cause. The hypothesis of an internal government report (Bruckner et al., 1999) drafted over a decade ago asserted that the South African food control system is burdened with challenges that are caused by its fragmented state. However, there has been limited progress on addressing any of the challenges identified in the report let alone understanding and addressing fragmentation of the system. The lack of response to the report has prompted this research, to determine not only the challenges of fragmentation within the food control system and how to address them, but also to interrogate the characteristic of fragmentation. The aim of the study is therefore to research fragmentation as a characteristic of the South African food control system, and to explore its relationship with challenges that it is associated with. The aim of the study also extends to recommend, based on the findings of this study, how the food control system can be made more effective and efficient. The results of this research are therefore to affect conceptual and ultimately policy changes in South Africa in order to develop an integrated food control system. The thesis is developed through a series of five papers, two of which are already published in peer reviewed journals. Each paper addresses specific objectives of the overall aims. The papers reflect the use of a variety of methods for the study that include reviews, systematic reviews and questionnaires. Objectives of the study include defining fragmentation and the scope of the food control system, determining if fragmentation exists within the South African food control system, determining challenges associated with fragmentation as well as the relationship between fragmentation and challenges. Other objectives include determining how fragmentation began as well as providing recommendations on how the system can be integrated. Much of the study was conducted by interrogating one part of food control, namely veterinary drug and residue regulation. This part of the system was used as it became apparent in researching and producing the first journal paper that this part of the system was highly fragmented, plagued with challenges and could act as a window into the issues facing the food control system in its entirety. The study, through the five papers, determines that: 1. Fragmentation exists within the South African food control system. This fragmentation is structural, functional and legislative in nature. 2. Fragmentation is associated with a variety of challenges which have been classified through this research as fundamental, systemic, functional and policy challenges. 3. The existence of the challenges and fragmentation mean that the current food control system is dysfunctional. 4. The relationship between fragmentation and its associated challenges are not linear, i.e. fragmentation not only causes challenges but these challenges may actually cause fragmentation or exacerbate it. 5. Fragmentation and challenges need to be addressed together through leadership training and drafting of a food control policy that includes a communication policy. 6. The food control policy must integrate the system, structurally, functionally and legislatively. Based on the findings of the research, the two major interventions for change by the way on integration are determined. These include leadership training and drafting of a food control policy. Training of leaders is required to enhance a systems thinking philosophy in government while including collaborative and collective interaction with a view to enhance inter and intra departmental communication. By training senior managers, the effects of mandate obligations and poor systems conceptualisation can be addressed. A food control policy is required to define the scope of the food control system in South Africa in terms of structures, functions and legislation as well as put in place measures to address each of the identified categories of challenges and frame the integration that trained leaders would have identified. The food control policy must include a communication strategy that addresses frequency, quality and method of communication as well as strategies for collaboration and interdepartmental interaction. The food control policy must be the overarching framework of food control in South Africa. In terms of a preferred model for integration, the best fit model is considered a system akin to the integrated food control system indicated by the FAO/WHO, (2003b) where the system is functionally integrated and driven by one integrated policy. The integration of the system is urgently required as continuance of the challenges identified as well as fragmentation of the current system will entrench the dysfunctional nature of the food control system and compromise the safety of foods consumed in the country. In addition, the trust that consumers have in food products and the regulation efforts of Government will also be greatly compromised should the challenges and fragmentation continue.
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