ACKEE gripe! - Processors accuse Bureau of Standards of using more expensive system to approve fruit for export
Some local processors of canned ackees are taking issue with the Bureau of Standards of Jamaica (BSJ) for the large fee it is charging them to clear the produce for export.
The processors say they are being required to pay the BSJ thousands of dollars to join the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Recognition Programme when there is a cheaper alternative.
The BSJ in 2000 developed the Jamaican Standard Specification for Canned Ackees in Brine (JS276:2000).
The standard was established primarily in response to Jamaica's efforts to satisfy requirements of the United States Food and Drug Administration so that ackees could once again be exported from Jamaica to that country.
According to the BSJ if the JS276:2000 standard is used it would qualify ackee processors for exemption under the Processed Food (Exemption) Regulations 2002 and allow them to export to the US. But the regulatory agency claims that this was never fully introduced so it has to use another system
Under current regulations the cost to processors for registration under the JS276:2000 would have been $5,000 per hour for the inspection.
But given that the BSJ claims JS276:2000 was never an option, processors wishing to access the lucrative US market are being forced to pay the regulatory body between $200,000 and $400,000 to join the HACCP Recognition Programme.
Companies participating in this HACCP Recognition programme undergo a surveillance audit, at least once, annually, in order to ensure they are maintaining compliance. Successful applicants are granted registration under the programme, which is valid for two years.
The BSJ is contending that despite the seeming lower cost using the JS276:2000 would not have necessarily worked out cheaper for ackee processors, as the final cost is dependent upon the number of man hours used in that process.
"Our registration process may require more than one day to complete, as well as may require more than one inspector," said the BSJ in response to questions from The Gleaner.
But one processor, who did not want to be named, rejected that claim arguing that the components of JS276:2000 are already checked for in regular registration, so it would be no more time consuming than any of the other standards the BSJ currently examines establishments under.
"Their argument that JS276:2000 would cost more than any other standard is ridiculous. Travelling inspectors are already paid for travelling so they go and do an inspection they only charge for time and a JS276 inspection would not have taken much longer than any of the other inspections," said the irate processor.
"What they are doing is exploitation and they should refund people their money," added the processor.
Denise Palmer, who owns Southside Distributors, contended that the ackee processors were never made aware that they could have used other quality management systems outside of the more expensive HACCP Recognition Programme.
"I was of the impression, based on what the Bureau indicated that being part of the HACCP programme was required to export ackee to the US," Palmer told The Gleaner.
"I was one of those processors who was misled and it is far reaching on us as small businesses and as processors in the economic climate that we are in.
"To be part of the HACCP Recognition Programme cost a lot of money based on the infrastructure required and they put a lot of demand on us. It would have been better for us to get the ackees into the US and then after that the spin off from the ackee help us to join the HACCP Recognition Programme," added Palmer.
SMALL PROCESSORS HIT HARD
With only 10 of the 16 ackee processors that are in the BSJ's database currently in the HACCP Recognition Programme, and allowed to export to the US, Palmer said small processors have been significantly affected.
"It is something that is affecting us, because when you export ackees to the US you get at least US$20 more per case than other jurisdictions like Canada and the United Kingdom. And the ackees also help to sell other things, so it is a problem and it is something that needs to be addressed."
The Gleaner has also discovered that some ackee processors have paid for audits to be conducted under the HACCP Recognition Programme from 2015, but up to last week they were yet to be done.
"The combination of issues which prevented the conduct of audits in 2015, despite deposits having been made by some firms included the transitioning of the Regulatory Division of the BSJ to becoming the National Compliance and Regulatory Authority (NCRA) and the attendant administrative changes," said the BSJ.
It added that the inability of some firms to accommodate the audits due to a lack of ackees for processing has also caused a delay in the audits.