JAMAICAN farmers and exporters of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables are to undergo training in good agricultural practices - as dictated by the Food Safety Modernisation Act for imports to the United States of America (US). At the same time, a senior civil servant is reminding farmers of the importance of getting their act in line to meet the food regulations of other countries.
Inspectors of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are slated to conduct some 15 inspections of farm and food-processing facilities this month, and at least 24 over the next several months. This is to determine, among other things, if agricultural practices, post-harvesting and packaging standards meet the set US criteria.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
However, Beverly Miller, coordinator of the food-safety modernisation secretariat within the agriculture ministry, is advising that even though the US is Jamaica's largest trading partner, local businesses need to also get up to speed on the food-safety regulations of other countries.
She told Monday's opening of a weeklong training workshop on good agricultural practices for farmers, exporters and agriculture ministry staff that the Canadian senate last November passed the Safe Food for Canadians Act.
In addition, the US, which is in dialogue with Canada, China and other countries, signed a memorandum of understanding with New Zealand in December, recognising each others' food-safety systems.
"This is where we would love Jamaica to get, to the point where our system is recognised not only by the US but all our trading partners," Miller told the opening ceremony of the workshop held at the Knutsford Court Hotel, St Andrew.
The training will focus on at least eight areas identified by the FDA related to food safety, with emphasis on preventing contamination. It will look at factors such as agricultural water - its use in irrigation as well as processing or cleaning of products; pesticides' residue level; and post-harvest care. Worker health and hygiene, facility sanitation and other factors, which potentially could present a threat of microbiological or chemical contamination, will also be addressed.
Don McGlashan, director general of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, welcomed the intervention.
He told AgroGleaner: "While we may be comfortable that we are training farmers and exporters, it is always good to have some form of validation. We (Jamaica) have a very decent record in food safety, but that shouldn't give us too much room for comfort. What we have seen on the surface may seem to be fairly alright, but we must establish it on scientific grounds."