Sugar packaging concerns as BSJ slow to implement revised standards
President of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, Metry Seaga, has described as untenable Government's failure to implement the mandatory guidelines which, among other things, will set much higher/stricter public-health requirements for the conditions under which raw (brown) and refined (granulated) sugar are packaged for sale in the retail trade.
"The truth is, we are nowhere (in the process), and we need to be because the way sugar is packaged in Jamaica is inadequate," Seaga told The Gleaner.
"Consumers are not able to see what they are buying. They have no assurance that the weight is correct. There is no labelling on it, so they have no assurance of what's in it, and we think it's an untenable situation and should be addressed immediately."
Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Agriculture, agreed that packaging reform, which would bring the local sugar industry in line with global standards, while creating a value-added industry (packaging), was long overdue.
He said this was agreed on as part of the overall reform of the regime for importation of refined sugar.
"We would move to a stage in Jamaica now where only packaged sugar that meets stipulated standards as laid down by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) can be in the retail trade. So we would move away from the current scenario where sugar is bought in bulk and packaged at the back of a supermarket, we don't know under what conditions," Stanberry said.
"Those standards will be mandatory, meaning that you can't legally sell sugar in the supermarket or in any retail establishment unless it is packaged. We have to move away from this back-of-the-shop business."
Karl James, CEO of Jamaica Cane Products Sales, told The Gleaner last year that, while packaging would force consumers to pay a little more, it would effectively serve as insurance for health, and ensure the traceability of the sugar produced.
SPECIFICS FOR PROCESSING
The revision of the draft standard now under consideration defines brown sugar as the "unrefined product made from washed and healthy cane" and sets out specifics for process and packaging.
Among those specifics is that "all processing areas, plants, equipment, floors, packing materials, personnel practices and hygienic practices observed in the production of sugar shall conform to the requirements of The Processed Food Act, 1959 and any amendments".
In addition, "only packaging materials which are not likely to impair the organoleptic (acting on, or involving the use of, the sense organs) or chemical characteristics of the product or make them harmful to health may be used. The materials used for packaging and the contents should be mutually compatible. For export goods, consideration should be given to international legislation on materials designed to come into contact with food."
The issue of labelling and storage is also addressed with the condition that "storage of sugar shall be under such conditions that the product does not deteriorate below the requirements of this standard".
Seaga said Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, and agriculture, had been informed of the urgency of the situation.
He said the matter had been discussed with Samuda and it was put squarely on the table that the things that were discussed with the previous minister needed to be implemented "post haste".
Efforts to get an update on the revision of the standards from the BSJ have been unsuccessful.