'Unsafe' pork at groceries, roadside
Imported pork is being dipped in harmful chemicals in an effort to keep them looking fresh, then repackaged and offered for sale to the public.
That’s according to President of the Trinidad and Tobago Farmer’s Union (TTFU) Shiraz Khan who, speaking before the Joint Select Committee on Finance and Legal Affairs as it continued its inquiry into food fraud, also linked the chemicals’ use to diseases such as cancer.
Concerns over the quality and safety of imported meat were raised before the Committee at a hearing in June 2016, where it was revealed by President of the Trinidad and Tobago Poultry Association Robin Phillips that citizens may be consuming imported chicken considered to be pet meat in developing countries.
Khan said chemicals banned in Europe and in the United States find its way into the country.
He questioned whether there was any authority making the necessary checks to ensure that only the safest chemicals are brought in by suppliers for use by farmers.
“We need to have proper regulations insisting that they…are being honoured. You have a situation and Chemistry, Food and Drugs is not operational. Who (authorities) are giving the permissions for when these come in to place in the market? Who are looking at it? Where is the evaluation?”
He noted that at the Committee’s last sitting, it was revealed that a number of issues, particularly in the areas of efficiency and testing, existed at the Bureau of Standards.
The TTFU head said without the required checks and balances, local and imported goods are not being thoroughly vetted and that was cause for concern.
He said the imported pork, “dumped pork” should be subject to processing at a bonded warehouse and not the local market, but it “finds it way” to supermarkets and roadside vendor.
The country’s health is being put at risk, he stressed.
“The problem with food fraud both local and imported is that we have no standards, no policy to put what we have in place in local law into effect.”
“There are billboards all over the country where supermarkets are selling pork much cheaper than what is being sold locally.”
Questioned by Committee Chair Sophia Chote on whether any official report had been made to authorities on the matter, Khan said one was made to the Agriculture Ministry, while unsuccessful efforts were made to get in contact with the Chemistry, Food and Drugs Division. The TTFU also held press conferences highlighting the matter.
Local farmers are now being forced to undersell their product in light of the cheaper costs of imported pork, he said.
Executive member of the TTFU, Kent Viera, who also sits on the Pesticide Board, confirmed that potentially harmful pesticides are making their way onto the local market.
“As is the case with the ducks, somehow or the other, the not accepted chemicals are finding its way through our borders and getting to a point where it could be offered for sale to the customer.”
He agreed that consumers are being put at risk with the improper handling of imported meats and fish and tilapia, which leads to harmful bacteria proliferation.
The TTFU President also noted that there currently exists no penalty in the event that there are fatal or life-threatening effects from the use of these chemicals on the meat.
Reading from a document produced by PAHO, Khan noted that the country had the highest cancer mortality rate in the Caribbean region.
“I’m linking the whole thing with the food fraud back to the health of the country. And if you look at the cancer and the cardiovascular diseases…this data came out of the Ministry of Health, and they have data only up to 2011, we can go to Australia, America, and New Zealand and get data up to 2015, 2016 but in Trinidad and Tobago it seems like when you want this data it is difficult to find.”
He noted that since 2002, the number of people suffering from cancer has grown significantly, while during the same period a 750 percent increase in the weight of imported broiler meats was recorded.
Khan, along with Supermarkets Association President Dr Yunus Ibrahim accepted that there is a responsibility to be had by all regarding the safety of food items offered for sale to consumers.
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