Guyana not equipped to comply with US food safety act

– lab facilities for safety tests non-existent

More than three years after United States President Barack Obama signed that country’s Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 into law, Guyana is still well adrift of being positioned to meet tough new standards in the absence of which locally produced foods will be denied access to US markets.

And with the US Food and Drug Administration (USDA) set to oversee the implementation of the law later this year, Director of Guyana’s Food and Drug Analyst Department Marlan Cole said this country will not be able to meet the FSMA compliance standards within the 2014 time frame.

Food and Drug Analyst Department  Director Marlan Cole
Food and Drug Analyst Department
Director Marlan Cole

The FSMA seeks to ensure the safety of US food supplies by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) has given the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate the way foods are grown, harvested and processed locally and to create an oversight regimen for foods being imported into the US. The law was prompted by several reported incidents of food-borne illnesses in recent years.

Cole told Stabroek Business that a key component of the requirements with which exporting countries would have to comply would be the capacity of the Analyst Department to support exporters by carrying out scientifically-based checks for safety standards on foods manufactured for exports. However, the department’s existing laboratory did not have the capacity to carry out those tests. In the absence of capacity to satisfactorily conduct such testing there is no means by which it can be determined whether food products that target US markets meet the requirements of the FSMA.

Cole told Stabroek Business that the creation of a laboratory with the capacity to undertake the kind of testing necessary to meet FSMA requirements would cost in the region of US$3 million and the creation of such a facility would require the relocation of the department from its existing temporary premises at Turkeyen. He said the laboratory capacity of the department had gone into decline ever since the relocation from Kingston some years ago and the present state of the facility also had implications for the ability of the department to conduct tests on foods consumed locally.

Cole said government was aware of the pressing need for the creation of alternative “suitable accommodation” for the Food and Drug Analyst Department and that a technical paper had already been submitted to the Ministry of Health in this regard. He said the department was awaiting a meeting with Health Minister Dr Bheri Ramsaran to discuss, among other things, three optional locations for the siting of new premises.

Few local manufacturers export significant quantities of food products to the US. But Cole noted that it was not unlikely that if the integrity of state infrastructure for conducting tests on foods manufactured for export was called into question that might affect even the country’s traditional exports. Accordingly, the available evidence suggests that other countries in the region with a higher dependence on US food export markets have been demonstrating a greater sense of urgency is seeking to ensure that their exporters become FSMA compliant. Jamaica, for example, has been working directly with its local manufacturers to ensure access to testing facilities while sections of the Jamaican productive sector have benefited from access to US experts on the FSMA and compliance qualifications.

The FSMA regulations grant the USFDA wide-ranging powers that allow for the inspection of facilities used in the cultivation of raw materials and the manufacture of finished products for export to the US.

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