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Nuclear Techniques Help Thai Food Exports

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Food safety tests performed using nuclear techniques help Thailand maintain its food export. (Photo: BQCLP)

Thailand is able to keep exporting a wide range of food products thanks to a four-year collaboration with the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to help the country ensure reliable food safety testing and surveillance, using nuclear techniques.

Between 2016 and 2018, a major food safety control laboratory in Thailand encountered difficulties in testing animal food products for residues of veterinary drugs and related contaminants following tightening of food quality and safety requirements in the country’s major export markets. It turned to the IAEA for support. In partnership with FAO, the IAEA embarked on a four-year laboratory capacity enhancement and training programme in the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques that facilitate quick screening and identification of chemical residues and contaminants in food. The training and laboratory equipment provided under the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme have enabled Thailand’s authorities to address the new requirements in its key markets and continue exporting food, including an estimated 900 000 tonnes of poultry products, 3000 tonnes of honey and honey products.

“Our food safety laboratory detection capabilities have greatly improved thanks to the IAEA and FAO,” said Apichaya Sungthong, Medical Scientist and Analyst at the Veterinary Public Health Laboratory of the Bureau of Quality Control of Livestock Products (BQCLP), which is the official laboratory serving the nation’s competent authority on food safety. “We can more effectively help Thailand to ensure that food products are well controlled and safe from farm to fork.”

Thailand is one of the largest food exporters in Asia. To maintain and grow its export-based economy, it must meet evolving safety and testing standards.

“Increasing consumer-awareness, stringent food safety standards and guidelines on national and international markets along with advances in analytical technology require that laboratories are better equipped and analysts update their knowledge and skills,” said James Sasanya, Food Safety Specialist at the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Agriculture.

At the BQCLP laboratory more than 21 analysts were trained on the use of isotopic and radio receptor assay techniques (see Radio receptor assays) through the IAEA technical cooperation programme. Scientists were also provided with and trained in analytical-method protocols and standard operating procedures for food safety testing. Further training and guidance were offered on techniques for sampling and laboratory quality management as well as identification and effective implementation of appropriate proficiency testing schemes. The laboratory also received a range of equipment and devices, stable-isotope standards, test kits and related supplies.

The BQCLP’s laboratory has a key role in food safety control. Here a technician checks samples for veterinary drug residues. (Photo: BQCLP)

Regional cooperation

The BQCLP’s laboratory has a key role in regional food safety control, as it serves as an ASEAN Food Reference Laboratory for Veterinary Drug Residues. To maintain this status, it requires ISO/IEC 17025 accreditation, the international standard for testing and calibration laboratories. The training from the IAEA and FAO helped the BQCLP laboratory maintain this standard, enabling countries from the region to continue sending samples for analysis to the laboratory, providing quicker test results at a lower cost than if samples were sent to countries further afield.

Analytical techniques are also being passed on to experts in other countries through a regional project framework, and scientists from the ASEAN are region receiving training in Thailand to enhance food safety control in their home countries. Since the beginning of the regional project in 2016 and a supplementary national project in 2018, 27 scientists have been trained by the BQCLP’s laboratory.

Cambodia is one of the countries that has benefitted from Thailand’s new expertise. Two of its laboratory analysts were trained at the BQCLP. “Two of our laboratory analysts gained valuable knowledge and experience on food safety testing at BQCLP that we are now applying to our developing laboratory,” said Nget Kiry, Head of Cambodia’s Veterinary Drug and Drug Residue Laboratory of the National Animal Health and Production Research Institute.

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