KINGSTON: Jamaica’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Roger Clarke, has expressed concern over the quality of foods being imported into Jamaica for public consumption.
He has asked the Bureau of Standards Jamaica to work with the relevant agencies to formulate a set of standards for key food items aimed at safeguarding the nation’s health.
“The level of sodium in some of our imported foods is frightening,” Clarke said during the 2013/14 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives last week. “The sugar content of some of the snacks – particularly imported ones – that our students consume in our schools, is equally alarming. We have a responsibility to safeguard our nation’s health and by the same token keep out unsavoury imports and provide opportunities for increased production of wholesome local foods and snacks.”
Clarke said the Government of Jamaica has made considerable strides in overhauling the nation’s food health and safety infrastructure, in order to safeguard public health. Among these measures is Cabinet’s approval of the Food Safety and Implementation Plan.
“Within the framework of this plan, we will rationalize the institutional arrangements and the legislative framework for food safety management, as this responsibility is now dispersed across several ministries,” said Clarke. “In this regard, the Veterinary Services Division and the Plant Quarantine Division of this Ministry will be appropriately strengthened.”
The Ministry is also undertaking an aggressive program to have all its labs accredited. $50 million has been spent on equipping veterinary laboratories. Members of staff have also undergone extensive training, both locally and abroad, and critical manuals have been prepared.
To facilitate exports, the Ministry is currently upgrading the Agricultural Marketing Corporation complex to meet United States Food Safety Modernization Act standards. Last year, two export complexes were improved at a cost of $16 million.
“These initiatives have supported the increase in exports,” said Clarke. “Under the US$15 million IDB Agricultural Competitiveness Project, significant resources have been committed to food safety, and we are actively pursuing an initiative to partner with a private entity to establish a modern multi-species abattoir in Westmoreland from the resources of this project.”