Hot air on food safety

It did not require the recent intervention of the Chief Medical Officer to make us aware of the fact that food-borne diseases are generally seriously under-reported and may well pose a serious public health threat in Guyana.

Local hospitals treat food poisoning of various degrees of severity with monotonous regularity and two medical practitioners with whom Stabroek Business spoke agreed that part of the problem had to do with an acute absence of sufficiently high safety and health standards coupled with what, sometimes, is an appalling unmindfulness among Guyanese as to where and what we eat.

Problems of safety and health standards in the food sector extend way beyond the standards to which eating houses are required to adhere and the strictness with which those standards are policed. We have had our fair share of episodes involving the placing of imported expired food items on the market, while the safety and health standards in the local manufacturing sector have also come under scrutiny.

In the instance of the expired food imports, the Food and Drugs Department has, for years, complained about its lack of capacity to effectively monitor food imports at our sea and airports. The Ministry of Health has also, for years, failed to provide a satisfactory response to this deficiency. The department’s human resource paucity also impacts on its ability to monitor the distribution of expired and otherwise risky food (and drug) imports locally.

Over time, the Ministry of Health has sought to play catch up through seminars like the recent one held with the support of PAHO, though it is patently clear that in the matter of food safety standards we are more or less running fast to stand still.

There are two reasons for this. First, the Food and Drugs Department and the municipal food safety authorities are patently unable to check the dangerous lawlessness that passes for service in some sections of the restaurant and snackette industry. The second reason has to do with the speed with which global food safety standards are evolving and the inability of our own national food safety regime to keep pace with those standards.

The most glaring recent case in point is the new US Food Safety Modernization Act, which when fully implemented will effectively veto the importation into the US of the vast majority of food imports from Guyana unless measures are taken to meet the various stringent safety and health requirements set out in the US legislation.

We are aware of no serious initiatives taken by either the government or the private sector as a whole to treat with the challenges associated with food safety whether those pertain to locally consumed foods or to locally manufactured food exports. From all we have been told, given the imminent implementation of the US Food Safety Modernization Act (in 2013) the kinds of one-off food safety seminars supported by PAHO – however welcome these may be – are not enough.

Indeed, when one considers that Guyana is, even now, seeking to position itself to play a critical role in a wider regional food security plan, that is all the more reason why food safety should move closer to the top of the agendas of both the private sector and the government. Save and except for perhaps one or two notable private sector exceptions, there is no evidence of any serious initiatives on the part of either businesses or the government to seriously get their minds around the food safety issue despite its obvious implications for both public health and for the country’s economy. Certainly the likely implications of the US Food Safety Modernization Act for the local manufacturing sector is more than sufficient cause for the government to sit down with the private sector – and perhaps even to take the discourse to the region as a whole – to determine the way forward for our food exporters. Both the government and the private sector are yet to make decisive moves on this issue.

Once again we appear destined to find ourselves in a position of desperately trying to close the stable doors long after the horses have bolted.

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A perspective on the small business sector

While the Stabroek Business has been unable to secure a reliable estimate of the extent of the increase in urban trading over the past five years we have noticed the pronounced upsurge in small business investments in sectors such as grooming and beauty treatment (barbering, hairdressing, cosmetology), fashion, food vending and IT goods and services.

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City Hall and the parking meters

The very last thing that City Hall needs now that it is probably better-positioned than it was a few months ago to put behind it a past strewn with accusations of fraud, mismanagement and corruption is more of the same, though it seems on the basis of the available evidence that it may not be particularly mindful of the consequences of passing the same way twice.

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Public/private sector dialogue and the economy

Several months after we raised the issue of the seemingly long-postponed public/private sector ‘summit’ there has been no definitive word from either side as to whether or when the two will meet though the former chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Major General (ret’d) Norman McLean did say in a letter to this newspaper that the meeting will take place.

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GuyExpo, Jubilee and the visitor experience

This year, small business representatives at the Jubilee GuyExpo event had much to say about how it impacted on customer patronage when compared with their customary day-to-day trading in arcades, on pavements, in malls and the like.

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Hastening public service salary negotiations

Once the programme of official events for the Jubilee Independence celebrations is over one expects that there will be some movement on the commencement of discussions between the government and the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) on wages and salaries and related issues.

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Jubilee opportunities

Understandably, we have no clear idea of the numbers that will arrive here over the next week to be part of the country’s 50th Independence Anniversary celebrations, though from all that we have been hearing Guyanese from the diaspora, some of whom may well not have set foot on their native soil in decades, will be ‘touching down’ here to participate in the historic celebrations.

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The Fire Service and the Gafoors conflagration

A fair number of people – including some employees of the company with whom this newspaper spoke – have commented favourably on the grit and determination with which the Guyana Fire Service battled Monday’s conflagration at the Gafoors Houston Complex.

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Finding a solution

It is the easiest thing in the world to take sides in the prevailing brouhaha between the Georgetown City Council and the vendors who ply their trade in the area of the Stabroek Market following what turned out to be the forcible removal of the vendors from areas where – in some cases – they had been trading for several years.

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