The Food and Drug Association has invited civil society groups working on food safety to join it in forming a network for consumer rights.
The invitation is significant, as previously the FDA has opposed many civil society-led food safety programs, including tests on food products.
Instead, it has worked closely with the Myanmar Consumers’ Union, which was formed by former government officials in November 2012 “with the encouragement” of FDA chief Dr Tun Zaw and the Ministry of Commerce.
But acting FDA director general Dr Than Htut acknowledged this week that the administration needed help to tackle the plethora of food, drug and cosmetics safety issues in the market.
“We are trying to create this network to respond to consumers’ concerns, ensure the safety of foods, drugs and cosmetics, improve consumer awareness, and boost FDA activities,” he said.
The FDA director general and director, municipal officials, police, and representatives of civil society groups are expected to take part.
A first consultation meeting with potential members will be held at the end of September.
“At the first meeting we are going to discuss about the issues of purified drinking water quality and reusing fried oil,” he said.
The plan to set up the network has been welcomed by food safety groups, but they say its effectiveness will depend on the willingness of government officials to accept input from civil society groups.
U Ba Oak Khine, head of the Consumer Protection Association, which has been invited to join the network, said his group’s previous efforts to improve food safety had been opposed by the FDA, which had even threatened to sue him at one point.
“I receive a lot of complaints from consumers about food safety but when I reveal them I am always attacked by the FDA,” he said. “Today, though, they have acknowledged the work of our association.
“We are going to try to work together with the FDA but I do not know if they will accept what I say.”