Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
Jamaica will respond to the United States' Food Safety Modernization Act with reciprocal stringent measures for fresh and processed foods imported from North America, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke warned yesterday.
Signed into law by US President Barack Obama on January 4 last year, the act is the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in America in 70 years and shifts the focus from responding to food contamination to preventing it.
For this reason, all exporters of food to the US must demonstrate that their food is safe and to this end are required to be registered with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and must establish systems to ensure traceability along every step of the value-added chain.
Clarke insisted yesterday that manufactured items and agricultural goods imported from the US must meet the same phytosanitary standards.
"It's not just about acquiescing to what the US demands in terms of food safety. It is not just to satisfy them alone," he said during a press briefing at the ministry's Hope Gardens office.
"The US is demanding certain standards for food going into the US and we are going to make sure that we put in place systems which say any food coming into the country must be also safe."
Continuing, he said: "It can't be a one-way stream where they want us to adhere to all kinds of strictures but they can send in any kind of dump thing into the country. We are not going to allow it."
Citing figures from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Clarke said each year food-borne contaminants account for more than nine million illnesses, 56,000 hospitalisations and 1,350 deaths.
GOOD FOOD SAFETY RECORD
Clarke defended Jamaica's food safety record, pointing out that the island continues to export conch to the European Union (EU) and was able to acquire and maintain EURepGap certification for its exports of banana to the EU.
He noted: "Our food and nutrition security policy, which outlines the framework we will undertake to assure food security, also takes into account the need for adequate sanitation in the production, processing and consumption of foods."
Meanwhile, Sheila Harvey, chief plant quarantine inspector in the agriculture ministry, expressed confidence that the estimated 80 exporters of fresh fruits and vegetables to the US would meet the required standard despite the challenges. Chief among these challenges is the fact that many are operating out of old facilities which they do not own and so are unable to access financing to bring about necessary infrastructural improvements.
CAPTION: Don McGlashan (left), director general in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, makes a point about the higher Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) standards to which exporters of fresh vegetables and processed food are held, while Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the ministry, looks on. McGlashan was speaking during a press conference hosted yesterday by the agriculture ministry to apprise stakeholders about the new Food Modernization Act. The HACCP is a system of safety in food production and pharmaceuticals used by the United States Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture to ensure safe procedures and products. Photo by Christopher Serju