The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Health inspectors concerned as plan for shift to agriculture ministry put in place

Thursday, 16 May 2024, 14:15 Last update: about 1 month ago

Health inspectors on Thursday expressed their concern as plans to shift their team from the health ministry to the agriculture ministry are being put in place.

The Malta Environmental Health Officers Association on Thursday held a press conference in which its president, Joseph Camilleri, said it had been not been consulted about changes on who will conduct food health inspections. 

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"All we know is that the food health sector is moving from the health ministry to the food agency under the agriculture ministry," Camilleri told the media in Valletta.

He said it is still unclear as to how food inspections will be carried out by this agency and whether inspectors need to have the “same specialisation as we do". Environmental health inspectors need a warrant to practise.

There are 90 health inspectors in government employment, and they are assigned to food safety, bay sanitation and port safety, among other areas. 

The association's public relations officer Aaron Simpson said MEHOA wants all environmental health practitioners under one roof within the health ministry. 

"We are responsible for public health. It's in the name. Some of us not only have a diploma or a degree but also a post-graduate and masters," he said.

In reply, the agriculture ministry said that the controls on food safety in Malta has always been shared responsibilities of the ministries of agriculture, health and the consumer which are further divided into 11 entities with a fragmented surveillance. It said that this is the reason why in a 2022 electoral promise, the government proposed to consolidate the food controls under one entity.

Consequently, the ministry, which is responsible for the portfolio on food, was assigned the competency to consolidate the functions of food control. To this end, the Commission for Food Safety (KSI) was established in 2022 and its mandate is to survey, coordinate and update all methods related to food, it said. Furthermore, the ministry said that the KSI was assigned to the portfolio of the Ministry of Agriculture in April of 2022. 

The ministry said that to conform with the Program of Government Works based on the 2022 electoral manifesto, it began a transformative initiative to establish a new authority whose responsibility is to ensure food safety, among other things. It said that this shows a high standard of commitment to food safety and provides an integrated approach to taking decisions based on risk assessment and dealing with the food chain from farm to table. 

The ministry said there was a high standard analysis and comprehensive plan with proposals that will serve as a basis for the new authority made up of the consolidation of existing entities. It added that the process was led by KSI and saw the consultation of all relevant, interested parties who were asked to give any information needed for this exercise. 

As opposed to what MEHOA claimed, the ministry said that it met the leaders of MEHOA since June 2022 when they were informed about this process. The ministry said that the establishment of a single authority isn’t going to weaken food safety or the profession of those involved but rather will get together all the functions of controlling the food chain under one administration in accordance with EU regulation 2017/625. It added that this will offer advantages to officials, stakeholders and the consumers by simplifying processes, increasing competency and clearly outlining responsibilities.   

The ministry said that the government always believed that public officials that will be assigned to a new authority will keep all their rights and duties as public officials and that their conditions of service should not be less than those that are attached to their role in the public service. It added that this has been done in the past with various authorities and public agencies according to Maltese law.

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