BY TANESHA MUNDLE Observer staff reporter [email protected]

Friday, October 28, 2011

WITH just a little over two months before the United States Food Safety Modernisation Act takes effect, a member of Jamaica’s National Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) Special Task Force has raised concerns about the country’s readiness in meeting the requirements to facilitate food exports to the US.

Under the FSMA, passed in January, all entities that are producing, handling, transporting, exporting, importing or distributing food must plan, test and document their food safety controls to ensure that they not only meet the FSMA but all other FDA requirements.

However, according to Beverley Miller, project coordinator in the FSMA Secretariat at the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ), the country still has a lot of work to do in order to meet the January 2012 deadline. She said the task force, which was set up to ensure that the country is prepared, has uncovered a number of challenges that include unaccredited laboratories and tests, inadequate dedicated pesticide-testing laboratories, as well as unsuitable packaging houses and factories.

“Only a third of Jamaican exporters are expected to meet the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for export,” Miller said in relation to the export of onions and escallion and tubers such as yam and potatoes.

Miller was speaking Wednesday at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston at the launch of the Euro500,000 Caribbean Export Development Agency Special Assistance Programme for CARIFORUM Food Producers.

She said the Quarantine Plant Division in the agriculture ministry — which has responsibility for the inspection of packaging house, inspection and certification of produce, and preparation of market access reports for new markets — has done 15 assessments to date and that the results were not good.

“(None of the) 15 that was deemed to be ready; the closest was a category that, with intervention and help, could possible be ready. A number of them, I would say easily 30 per cent, were looking as if they might not make it, not right now. That would need a lot of intervention and of course the FDA starts their visit in November, so it not looking good,” Miller said.

Furthermore, she said “most of the packaging facilities are very old and were not really made for that purpose that they are being used for.”

The same, she said, exists for the food processing factories.

“The processed foods facilities are not designed or constructed for use as factories and therefore do not lend themselves to appropriate cleaning and maintenance and so on. There is also the matter of untrained and untrainable persons working,” Miller disclosed.

She said of the 637 factories identified by BSJ, only 399 were registered as the others did not meet the requisite standards. Fifty-two of the factories were closed voluntarily.

Another major problem, she said, was that many of the laboratories were not accredited.

“…Just about all of the laboratories are not accredited. There are a few tests that have been accredited,” she noted.

Added to those problems, she said that the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) — which is responsible for safety on the farm — is not able to do as many extension visits and that there were also challenges with access to certain farms, the provision of adequate resources to farms and that the Pesticide Control Authority was hampered by inadequate, dedicated testing laboratories and a shortage of scientists for pesticide residue analysis.

Meantime, the Caribbean Export Development Agency Special Assistance Programme will help food producers, exporters and manufacturers to meet the new global food safety regulation, including the FSMA.

Under the programme, funded by the 10th EDF programme of the European Union (EU), companies, exporters and potential exporters can access funds to carry out projects that will help them to meet the new requirements.

Additionally, qualified firms wanting to access more than the Special Assistance Programme can apply for up to Euro30,000 under the Direct Assistance Grant Scheme programme.

President of the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association, Vitus Evans welcomed the initiative.

“Today’s launch of this special facility is… (an) indication that the region is aware of the seriousness of the situation and the possible consequences,” he said.

“We are not talking only about the potential earnings, but also the ripple effect and the impact to the economies as our exporters are also employers. Jamaica’s non-traditional export sector employs approximately 77,000 persons,” he said.