Dr Christopher Tufton, said Tuesday that local laboratories are ill-equipped to handle the volume of work to be created under new food-safety laws which require exporters to produce lab-tested results on products bound for the United States.
It's the latest hiccup for Jamaica, which now has two months to bring food exporters up to code on new food-safety rules being imposed by the United States.
Marguerite Domville, chief executive officer for the Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation (JANAAC), said none of Jamaica's 83 private and public labs is certified for food-safety tests.
The Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) takes effect January 2012, but just one-fifth of Jamaican food exporters are considered sufficiently up to code to pass the stringent scrutiny that the law will impose.
Under the pending regime, food must be tested by an accredited laboratory before shipments are allowed entry to US ports.
Domville said none of the 83 labs is equipped to perform tests for basic elements such as salmonella, pesticide residue, vitamin C, yeast, extraneous matter, mould, and fungus.
"The labs are in need of a documented management system similar to the 9001 standard," she said. They require certified staff, equipment correctly calibrated to international standards, humidity conditions and other facilities to prevent cross contamination.
"We have identified three labs which have the potential to provide these and which are now going through the process of certification," said Domville.
"We have not concluded a budget attached to getting the blabs to the required standards. This is currently being worked on."
The Jamaican Government, hoping to secure annual export earnings of US$118 million, has put up J$100 million to help exporters raise standards. It's not clear whether the lab project will add to the tally or draw on existing resources.
"We have identified all the critical lab facilities, both public and private, with the public ones being the Jamaica Bureau of Standards [sic], the Scientific Research Council and the University of the West Indies. We have cross-referenced all the critical tests which will be needed and are looking at the facilities to see who has what, and where the gaps are," said Tufton, the industry minister.
At the latest workshop Tuesday on preparations to comply with the new law, the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce and its agency JAMPRO told exporters that a Better Process Control School will be launched in January to do testings.
The school is a project of the Department of Chemistry at the University of the West Indies and the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ).
"It is no use doing all the work but can't find a lab to certify that you are ready," said Tufton.
The new FSMA regulations will affect all entities exporting food products into the US, including agro-processors, conch, baked goods and fresh produce suppliers, as well as the food handlers, transporters, and distributors with whom they do business locally.
Jamaica estimates that about 80 per cent of the 200 food exporters need help to meet the requirements.
Ten HACCP-compliant companies will be exempt from inspections to begin in January. They include several ackee processors and three GraceKennedy companies.
Accomplishments to date under the multi-agency effort include the employment of the food-safety modernisation coordinator since September 26; the appointment of a coordinator by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to oversee a subgroup to handle the needs of farmers; and training of inspectors by BSJ in the area of food-safety management systems and risk management.
The industry ministry said inspectors from each stakeholder ministry or agency have begun "gap audits" to determine the level of intervention required.