No plastic rice - Gov't says tests found no evidence of tainted staple on local market
With mounting concerns and swirling allegations in the domestic market about contaminated rice being sold to unsuspecting consumers, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda has declared that the authorities have so far found no evidence of plastic rice.
Earlier this week, Jamaicans were sent into panic mode when a video surfaced on social media and was later aired in a television newscast showing a woman from Manchester claiming that the rice she was preparing was made from plastic.
According to Samuda, having realised the seriousness of the issue, the authorities sprang into action and took samples from the parish, but so far, nothing has been found to suggest that there was tainted rice on the market.
"So far, I can assure the people of Jamaica, there is absolutely no evidence of any contamination of plastic within the samples tested by the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (SBJ)," the minister said as sought to allay the fears of rice eaters.
He also said the temporary ban placed on rice imports would be lifted, but supplies from countries outside the Caribbean Community would undergo further tests before being released into the domestic market.
The minister said while the ban was being lifted to accommodate rice from Suriname and Guyana, his ministry was taking no chances with the scare, and a multi-agency approach would be taken to further monitor the market and suppliers.
Samuda said storerooms, supermarkets, shops, and virtually anywhere rice is being stored and sold would be brought under greater scrutiny in the coming days, as he was determined to do everything possible to protect consumers.
"Anywhere we find abuse [of established standards], not only will we seize the goods in that supermarket, but I am going to take advice from my legal team as to what other actions we can take, including closing that establishment," the tough-talking minister said.
He added that nothing would endanger the safety of Jamaicans under his watch as agriculture and commerce minister.
With Samuda demanding more work from the monitoring agencies working closely with his ministry, there could be another issue on the rise.
One of the agencies expected to be front and centre in the plastic rice probe, the BSJ, has been flagged in a recent audit report for its monitoring capabilities.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis one week ago tabled a report in Parliament, in which she said "the BSJ has limited assurance that products in the marketplace meet the required established standards".
Monroe Ellis said the agency had conducted "limited testing" of products for conformance with quality standards. Pointing to examples, she said from the sample of 82 monitoring reports, at ports of entry, laboratory testing was done in only seven instances.
"From a sample of 214 monitoring reports in the domestic market, between April 2015 and March 2016, there were only two instances in which products were taken for laboratory testings," the auditor general noted.
Quizzed by The Gleaner about the integrity of testing yesterday, the BSJ boasted that it has 35 tests that were internationally accredited.
According to the BSJ, samples tested by its lab were "accepted all over the world".
"We don't need to go overseas to confirm. We have the infrastructure, we have the equipment, and we have the staff who are highly qualified and competent [to do the job]," Yvonne Hall, executive director of the BSJ, said as she sought to defend the integrity of the organisation.
The auditor general has recommended that the BSJ undertake enterprise-wide risk assessment and management to ensure resources are appropriately matched with risk levels.