Conglomerate GraceKennedy group says three of its food manufacturing operations are already up to export code but their multibillion-dollar business remain exposed to a new American food safety law because of uncertainty that the 300 companies in its supply network locally and overseas will meet the tough new requirements.
GraceKennedy Limited (GK) said its subsidiaries are Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) and ISO 9000 certified.
Its supply partners are still to complete the agreed inventory of their systems to ascertain what corrections, if any, are needed; but have to the end of September to produce their lists, according to GK Chief Supply Chain Officer, Zac Mars.
The Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), which imposes new food standards and places the onus on exporters to police their own systems as well as that of companies with which they do business, takes effect in just over three months on January 1, 2012.
The FSMA requires food companies to write and implement new food safety protocols to mitigate potential hazards with certified HACCP systems; and implement acceptable traceability and recall procedures and strategies to prevent intentional food contamination.
The law also demands that food safety plans be documented.
Mars, noting that group exports to the United States are valued about US$50 million (J$4.3 billion), said Monday that the process of closing gaps in food traceability systems is complex.
The three-month deadline is much too close for comfort, he said, even moreso for those companies just starting the certification process.
"Our products are manufactured all over the world. We are also waiting to see our overseas base conform," Mars said.
GK food manufacturers that export to the US are Grace Food Processors Canning, National Processors, and Dairy Industries Jamaica Limited.
Mars said 17 of GK's business partners turned up at the most recent meeting called in August, with the logistics expert noting that the company assessment phase of its partners was now complete.
"We have not actually gone in to do plant inspections," he clarified. "If those were done, there might be more gaps identified."
The Government has determined that 80 per cent of Jamaican food exporters need their processes upgraded.
Too late for sensitisation
On September 6, the Ministry of Investment Industry and Com-merce launched an exporter information programme and announced J$500 million (US$5.8m) in loan support from state financiers EXIM Bank and Development Bank of Jamaica at an average annual interest of 6 per cent for the 160 companies determined to be in need of training and/or equipment.
Jamaica is willing to invest the near US$6 million to safeguard a food export sector valued at US$118 million (J$10b).
"The government's programme is a good initiative, but manufacturers need to work assiduously to assess where they are and understand the requirement to close existing gaps," said Mars.
"With three months left to go, it's a bit late with the sensitisation process, to secure resources and information in order to execute a turnaround. We need to work fast. Companies like GK which started assessments in April are a little further along the way."
Mars stated that suppliers and companies with which it partners in exports have been hosted at its own sensitisation sessions during the summer. The promise of supply partners to inventory their systems by September emerged from these workshops, he said.
GK's own systems are also under review in anticipation that its companies may be among the 50 targeted for a surprise audit by US federal inspectors starting in January.
"We must ensure our own manufacturing facilities are sorted out by the end of the year," said Mars.
"We cannot speak confidently of others in the chain. We have 300 suppliers worldwide and they have their own suppliers too. Our goal is to identify our primary suppliers and maintain a continuous conversation and monitoring to determine how the gaps are being closed," he said.