Sunday 22 September, 2019

Agriculture Minister calls for stronger food safety policies

Agricultural Minister Clarence Rambharat said a national Food Safety Policy is important in protecting the public's health. 

Speaking at the First Stakeholder Consultation of a Draft Food Safety Policy at the Kapok Hotel on Monday, Rambharat said more regulatory control for local and imported food is needed. 

"Whatever we do in relation to a food safety policy for a country is only as strong as a person's individual sense of what is safe; what is right and what is appropriate," he said. 

Rambharat referred to the seizure of approximately 1,800 pounds of wild meat last month, which was being brought in from Venezuela, saying proper border surveillance is also needed. He said there was another alleged incident of imported dasheen from Venezuela. 

"Any food product that enters a Country without appropriate oversight introduces major risks to not only personal safety but also the safety of a country's food system," Minister Rambharat added.

Several measures which were pinpointed for improvement included:

- proper labelling and packaging of goods

- truthful advertising

- training (with a requirement for certification) and enforcement

- product recall

- a robust Information Technology (IT) and communications system

- expiry date(s)

- a disposal regime

- consumer advisories and

- regulatory control.

The Consultation was hosted by the Ministry in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) and the Ministry of Health and was aimed at producing a National Food Safety Policy so as to protect public health by providing assurance of safe food "across the food chain continuum (that is, from 'farm to fork')", through a coordinated and collaborative approach among all responsible ministries, agencies and stakeholders.

The Draft National Food Safety Policy is one output of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2014-2016 for Trinidad and Tobago and has been prioritized for national development and implementation.

Food Safety Advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Carla Marcelle-Boyce, referred to the dangers of food-borne illnesses which included but was not limited to increased mortality rates; a decline in productivity (due to loss time caused by sick leave) as well as an overextension of the already scarce resources of the country's public health system.

Marcelle-Boyce said the National Food Safety Policy is necessary not only for the protection of the nation's health and reduction in the spread of food-borne illnesses but also for access to both regional and global markets. 

The Consultation, which continues in Tobago next Tuesday was also attended by representatives from PAHO/WHO, the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Planning and Development, the Agricultural Society of Trinidad and Tobago (ASTT), the National Marketing Development Corporation (NAMDEVCO), Trinidad and Tobago Bureau of Standards (TTBS), Poultry Association of Trinidad and Tobago, Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Caribbean Industrial Research Institute (CARIRI), Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT), National Schools Dietary Services Limited and National Flour Mills (NFM).

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