Gleaner Editors' Forum | Importing trouble - Local entities worried about lax regulation of food entering Jamaica
Jamaican-made products are facing tough competition from imported items on supermarket shelves, and one local food-safety expert has revealed that the findings from the testing of some imported foods "would blow your mind".
According to managing director of Technological Solutions Limited (TSL), Dr Andre Gordon, fruits such apples and grapes are among the items that have caused concern. TSL has been providing food-safety and quality systems expertise to the region since 1996.
"Most of the goods that we are eating are imported (and) these are not being checked, so we don't know what pesticide levels are coming in," Gordon told a Gleaner Editors' Forum at the newspaper's North Street head office last Thursday.
"Look on the supermarket shelves and you see how much goods are now coming in competing with our domestic producers, made in France, made in Turkey, made in Croatia, made in Slovenia, all about, because the reciprocity element of this free trade agreement (Economic Partnership Agreement) has kicked in and European companies are using it," added Gordon.
Deputy president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters' Association (JMEA), Richard Pandohie, told the forum that while a lot of effort is being placed into regulating local producers, foreign goods are not subjected to such scrutiny.
"You can go downtown and see packages down there with not a scrap of English on," lamented Pandohie.
"There is barely anybody from the Bureau [of Standards] at the ports inspecting anything. There is no confiscation of the products off the shelf, off the streets," added Pandohie, who is also the chief executive officer of Seprod Limited.
LOCAL PRODUCE SAFER
Group marketing director of Walkerswood Caribbean Foods Limited, Sean Garbut, cautioned Jamaicans to eat "our good, good Jamaican foods", as imported items such as apples, for example, are sprayed with a high concentration of pesticides.
"We are talking about an item that has been picked in middle America somewhere, gone through the whole process, packed in a stocking warehouse and then sold by contract into importing countries like our own. So they need that item to last and look as fresh as possible from this point to that point," said Garbut.
He noted that while the authorities have been making strides in counteracting counterfeit cigarettes and shoes, more needs to be done to monitor consumables coming into Jamaica.
"I mean, fine, you buy a Puma and you walk down the road and the bottom fall off and you see that it is not really Puma, it is Pumo, that's one problem, but when you now consume an item that doesn't provide the proper information on it, maybe you have diabetes or hypertension or other elements, and it is not properly shown, or even worse, items that are not safe, ingredients that, for good reasons, have been banned from other areas are coming in," said Garbut.
Gordon said that while barriers to import trade should not be promoted, he is adamant that local regulators should also focus on exports.
"What we are saying is that most regulatory bodies focus most heavily on ensuring equity in the protection of their consumers from items imported into the country, as well as making sure that those produced domestically also meet the requirements," said Gordon.
"Right now, pretty much Jamaica is not ensuring that imported items, particularly from extra-regional sources, meet the regulations that we have," added Gordon.