Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
THE AGRICULTURE ministry is fast-tracking efforts to get exporters and farmers up to speed with the stringent Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) standards for fresh and processed foods imported into the United States. This is in preparation for a visit by inspectors from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the first quarter of the year.
This will be the second visit by FDA inspectors, who last year expressed satisfaction with the country's progress, while offering advice after inspecting a number of export facilities at the Agricultural Marketing Complex on Spanish Road. The FDA inspectors also inspected a private exporter's outfit along Marcus Garvey Drive, Kingston.
While admitting that Jamaica got off to a late start, Don McGlashan, director general in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, is satisfied with the progress to date, even as he admitted that more needs to be done. His confidence that Jamaica will clear the FDA hurdle is shared by Andrew Collins, president of the Jamaica Exporters' Association (JEA).
Having hosted several workshops on the issue with Vice-President Dr André Gordon, who is very conversant with the FSMA which was passed into law on January 4, the JEA is continuing this training which started more than a year ago. The aim is to get all its members up to speed in terms of what is required under the new legislation, described as the most sweeping reform of food-safety laws in the United States (US) over the past seven decades.
Noting that the JEA has members at various levels of development, he insisted that for the most part, the organisation was on track with its preparation.
Meanwhile McGlashan, who heads the committee in charge of getting the country prepared for the FSMA, explained that the ministry has been proactive in publishing a number of booklets on good agricultural practices in various areas, including crop production and apiculture. The ministry is poised to launch a major national public awareness campaign to make farmers and the general public fully aware of the compliance requirements.
Already 180 farmers have received training on the rules for growing, harvesting and safe production of fresh produce, as dictated by the US. The director general noted that while in the past much emphasis had been placed on what happens within the manufacturing/processing facility, there was a need to connect the dots about everything that happens with the product - from start to finish.