Samuda insists on refining regulations
All brown sugar sold in retail outlets across Jamaica must be properly packaged in appropriately labelled heat-sealed plastic bags as of now.
Karl Samuda, minister of industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries, used a press conference at his New Kingston office on Friday, June 23, to remind the country of the full import of the mandatory standards that were gazetted on December 30 last year.
"Sugar, like other food items, must now provide the stamp of quality assurance to purchasers that they are buying safe food, fit for consumption and meeting international traceability and food safety standards," he said.
"This means that all pre-packaged sugar available to the retail trade must now be appropriately labelled. This is intended to ensure that the consumer is provided with clear and correct information," Minister Samuda explained.
However, it became clear during the press conference that there are still some outstanding issues to be resolved before full implementation can take effect, including a call by the minister for further amendments to the regulations.
"If an inspector goes into a supermarket and sees sugar that is not labelled, then they'll be liable for a fine and confiscation of the product," Samuda said. However, when The Gleaner asked about the range of sanctions that would apply, he turned over the question to Lorice Edwards Brown, chief executive officer of the National Regulatory Compliance Authority (NRCA).
"It will include withdrawal of the product from the shelves," Edwards Brown answered.
"Yes and a fine. Isn't there a fine attached to it?" the minister interjected.
"There is a rehabilitation fee," the NRCA head continued. "If there is a breach of the label, what will happen is that we will pull the product from the shelf and the product will be allowed to be rehabilitated, which means that it can be rectified by putting a sticker over it, or for you to go back to the marketing company that did the labelling and get it fixed. That will be allowed," said Edwards Brown.
Samuda was again caught flat-footed when Karl James, chairman of the Sugar Association of the Caribbean (SAC), pointed out a potential conflict of interest.
"Some of the pre-packers are also retailers of sugar ... at least two. They are retailers of sugar. The question is whether those entities are now going to be given permission to repackage sugar at the site of retailing, because Regulation 5.2.1 says sugar for retail sale must not be packaged onsite, at the point of sale," said James.
As that point the press conference was shrouded in uncertainty, with other sugar industry experts challenging the validity of James' assertion that the registration of Cost Club Limited, trading as Mega Mart Wholesale Club, and Hi-Lo Food Stores Repacking Facility as pre-packers of sugar, could be in breach of the regulations, if this was done at the locations from which they both retail brown sugar.
"No sah," James responded firmly when challenged on his interpretation of the implications of re-packer status for the two business operations, as sugar industry stakeholders scrambled to arrive at a consensus on the matter.
Eventually, it was Edwards Brown who came up with a response that was accepted by all.
"I will try to clarify. No onsite packaging will be allowed. The intention is that there will be a separate repacking facility that will fall under the registration according to JS:36," she said.
Samuda then returned to the microphone to address the concern raised by the SAC chairman.
"Going to an important point that Mr Karl James made, it is one I think we have to be very careful about. It is well and good for people to say that they are going to repackage sugar from 50-pound bags and then, when you hear from the shout, somebody is behind a supermarket repacking right on the very same compound. If this is found, they are going to shut it down. So whatever has to be amended, make sure it gets done. Shut them down as long as they don't comply with the standards," he said.
He continued: "There can be no avenue for leakage. There can be no avenue for somebody who is intent on beating the system to get through. And we are going to revise it [regulations], too, because I think one of the things that we'll have to put in there is a financial fine because the regulations, ... doesn't come with a fine and there must be a fine - as a deterrent. That's the only thing, in most cases, people respect, so we have to include that in the quality standards," he said.