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Officials scramble to meet December 31 deadline for sugar labelling

Published:Friday | December 30, 2016 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Brown sugar being weighed at a retail outlet in Kingston in early December.
Karl Samuda
Donovan Stanberry

Civil servants are scrambling to meet tomorrow's December 31 deadline which Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda has set for the implementation of standards governing the packaging and labelling of raw (brown) sugar sold in the local retail trade.

"It's before me as we speak, to take to the minister to sign," Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the ministry, said of the new standards on Wednesday.

"That means, when he would have signed it tomorrow (Thursday), hopefully it goes to be gazetted, since it has already been drafted by the CPC (chief parliamentary counsel). So once he signs it, it goes to the printers - Government Printing Office - to be gazetted," he added.

Will it make it in time for the rest of the year? The Financial Gleaner asked.

"Yes man, today is the 28th, so it goes to the printer tomorrow," Stanberry confidently responded.

Expressing disappointment at the failure of the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) to have the measures finalised before, and an admission by Gary Dixon, manager of marketing and public relations at the Bureau, that there was no way the standards could be in place before March 31, 2017, Samuda cracked the whip, sparking a turnaround.

"I've told them that I want that standard in place by the end of December," Samuda declared at a press conference at his New Kingston office earlier this month.

"The fact of the matter is that procedures were approved, whereby no sugar should be sold to consumers unless it was sold in approved packages - packages that are labelled with all the ingredients on it," the minister said.

"There is now no reason why we cannot complete this provision, because the manufacturers of sugar and ourselves, the Bureau of Standards, have agreed that 0.5 per cent moisture content is acceptable and it should be so labelled on the bag to give us the satisfaction that we are in compliance," Samuda insisted.

Hurdles to clear

In a Gleaner story earlier this month, Dixon had declared that the matter could not be resolved before the first quarter of 2017, given the number of hurdles yet to be cleared in the very involved process.

"I don't foresee it being published before next year," he stated. "Reason being, there are still some major concerns regarding the requirements in the standards; so it will take some more engagement with the stakeholders in order to come to one agreement," he said.

"We should have the next stakeholder engagement before the end of the year, but after that it will have to be sent to the standards council for final approval, then to the minister for him to sign, then for gazetting. We're hoping that it will be gazetted before the end of the fiscal year, which is March 31; but for sure, the standard will not be ready until next year, 2017, next calendar year," Dixon added.

For the president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA), Metry Seaga, implementation of the standards cannot come soon enough, a situation he believes will benefit consumers who have been shortchanged over the years.

"We have done our own checks and gone and bought 100 bags of sugar and found varieties of different weights," he said.

"The consumer is being cheated, that's without a doubt. We have empirical data to show. We weighed every bag and every bag weighed something different, up to 12 per cent underweight, which persons seem to be using to make up their profitability," Seaga suggested, pointing out that the issue of foreign objects in the sugar was also a matter of serious concern for the JMA.

"We didn't have it tested, but there were significant amounts of extraneous matter that we found in the sugar," he said.