Bringing EU food safety standards to Georgia: a story of success
On September 30, 2016 Europe Foundation (EPF) concluded a project funded by the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), which was aimed at improving food safety and consumer protection in Georgia and Moldova.
EPF’s work on food safety issues started more than eight years ago, as the Foundation saw the need to build the capacity of local civil society organizations (CSOs) in this sphere and to mobilize consumers to advocate for improved food safety standards in Georgia. Since the beginning, the Foundation’s work on food safety and consumer rights has been framed by Georgia’s commitments under the European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan and later EU-Georgia Association Agreement, to advance EPF’s mission of increasing civic participation in public policy making. It was in large part due to EPF’s efforts that food safety and consumer protection issues were put on the public agenda, food safety standards were reintroduced in Georgia, and monitoring of their implementation began through a newly created public agency. Starting from 2012 and with support from the EU, EPF has been able to expand its food safety and consumer rights advocacy efforts in Georgia and to reach out to partners in Moldova to enhance citizen participation there as well. As a result of this project a number of concrete positive changes have been achieved in the food safety related legislation and practice, such as improved labeling of food products, enhanced transparency of inspection results, and improved food-safety practices among the food operators. In addition to raising public awareness on food safety related consumer rights, the project also increased transparency and effectiveness of public institutions charged with reforms implementation and developed food safety monitoring and advocacy capacities of thirteen CSOs and 73 young people.
Eighteen recommendations developed within its framework were accepted by the authorities in both countries. For example, the Government of Georgia approved a regulation on dairy products, which prohibited the use of milk product names on the labels of those products that contain vegetable fat. In Moldova, consistent advocacy campaign initiated by the grantee in one of the regional towns has persuaded the municipality to close an illegal street market, which operated in the city center.
As part of the project, EPF and its partners conducted regular monitoring of the implementation of food safety reforms in Georgia and Moldova, including through annual food safety assessments, which reviewed the extent to which the two governments have fulfilled their commitments under Association Agreements with the European Union. Further monitoring was conducted bythe project grantee CSOs that responded to more than 2,500 consumer requests and have detected at least 260 food safety and labeling requirement violations by businesses, of which 145 have been resolved either voluntarily by the businesses or after the involvement of relevant public authorities. To advocate for positive changes, EPF and its partners met regularly with public authorities, as well as organized sixteen roundtable discussions, twelve town hall meetings and two conferences across both countries, so as to bring together public, private, and non-governmental sectors to promote transparent convergence to EU food safety policies and, thus, to contribute to improved socio-economic conditions for citizens of Georgia and Moldova.
The sustainability of the project has been enhanced by targeted consumer information campaigns waged in both countries, as without an informed consumer, it is impossible to achieve full implementation of food safety regulations. Toward this end, the project partners and grantees produced and disseminated more than 150 public service announcements, TV reports, talk-shows and other outreach materials. The Project websites in Georgian and Moldovan www.mkidveli.ge and www.alegesanatos.md, as well as the consumer rights website www.momxmarebeli.ge, attracted about 703,000 visitors. Moreover, in cooperation with the National Food Agency (NFA) of Georgia, EPF has developed an android mobile application, which will enable consumers to access official food safety inspection results for enterprises in Tbilisi via their smartphones, so that they can make more informed choices when purchasing food products.
The work of EPF and its partners is also noteworthy for its outreach to the Georgian and Moldovan business community to improve their compliance with food safety requirements and for recognizing businesses for their good performance during the Best Food Enterprise of the year award. “We believe that the project brought a lot of benefits to both Georgia and Moldova. However, the work is not completed, as more efforts are needed to raise the awareness of food enterprises and citizens on food safety issues and to promote civic activism toward improved protection of consumer rights and enhanced transparency and accountability of public institutions. In the coming years, Europe Foundation will continue to mobilize stakeholders toward this end,” stated Ketevan Vashakidze, President of Europe Foundation.
Background: The project title is “Transparent Convergence to EU Policies in Sanitary Issues: the Case of Georgia and Moldova.” The project was implemented from October 2013 to September 2016, in partnership with East Europe Foundation Moldova and the Center for Strategic Research and Development of Georgia (CSRDG). The overall project budget was about 1 mil. EUR. The European Union contribution was 90%.
Contact Person: Lela Berdzuli, Program Associate, Europe Foundation. E-mail: email@example.com, Tel.: 225-3942 or 225-3943.