BY JULIAN RICHARDSON Assistant Business Co-ordinator email@example.com
NO new Jamaican food companies have received a critical food safety certification in the past year, despite it being an essential part of America's new import standards.
After 12 months of working on improvements to comply with the US Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), 95 per cent of Jamaican exporters still don't have Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plans.
Jamaica has 10 HACCP certified firms, the same as it did a year ago when the Government announced its plans to deal with the law's impact on an estimated 200 local exporters.
"It is about the same amount that have HACCP certification but we are working with the exporters," said Sheila Harvey, chief plant quarantine inspector in the Ministry of Agriculture.
The exporters have until the end of the year to comply, but it is not clear what will happen after December 31 if they do not.
Infrastructure and financial constraints are the biggest challenges for Jamaican fresh produce and processed food exporters as they seek to comply with the new rules passed by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Harvey said earlier this week when the ministry reported its progress on the issue.
"Most of their facilities are old buildings and there is another challenge in that persons don't own these facilities, so they are not able to go to the banks to get a loan or to get funding for repair," said Harvey. "However, with the Bureau of Standards, we are working with those who need a little help to go on and then hopefully we will be able to get fundng to work with the others."
Processed food exporters are held to a higher standard of HACCP than those who export fresh produce, said the ministry.
Since phased implementation of the FSMA began a year ago, the FDA has been auditing Jamaican food businesses that export to the US.
It is the most significant change to the US food safety laws since the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938 and is viewed as a serious threat to one of Jamaica's most valuable export markets.
Local food exports to the US were valued at US$118 million ($10.5 billion) in 2010.
Under the Act, among other procedures, companies are required to have their food tested by an accredited laboratory; share their food safety plans with the FDA upon request; write and implement food safety protocols to mitigate potential hazards; and implement acceptable traceability and recall mechanisms.
The FDA now has the power to order a mandatory recall if it determines that there is a reasonable probability that a product poses a health hazard -- previously it could only recommend voluntary recalls - and to block food from facilities or countries that refuse inspections.
Dr Andre Gordon, past president of the Jamaica Exporters' Association (JEA), said there have been a significant amount of inspections by US officials since the law was passed, with the most recent round of checks concluding last month.
"Various exporters have been affected, not just in Jamaica but throughout the Caribbean," said Gordon.
However, he remains confident that firms are on track to comply with the rules.
"Companies are realising that they have to put this in place and have to comply, and different companies are moving at different speeds to address the requirements," he said.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke has lauded the work of the country's Food Safety Modernisation Act Committee that was set up last October to help farmers and fresh produce exporters comply with the FSMA.
"To date, the work of the committee has resulted in several significant accomplishments," Clarke said.
Several Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) officers in 13 parishes have been trained in the FSMA guidelines, while plant quarantine/produce branch inspectors have been instructed in post harvest operations and procedures, he said.
The committee has also trained farmers' groups in Walkerswood, St Ann, St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, and St Mary, as well as members of the greenhouse association.
Three exporters have been trained in post-harvest fungicide treatment, personal hygiene and record keeping prior to FDA inspection in February.
None of the exporters were issued with a FDA-483 (Inspectional Observation Form), used to document and communicate concerns discovered during these inspections, "indicating that they had passed the inspection", he said.
After some yam shipments were found to have pesticide levels above allowable limits, 18 exporters were sensitised about the FSMA and trained in post-harvest fungicide procedures, he said. This resulted in the number of yam detentions decreasing significantly.