Dept of Commerce to conduct sessions here on new US food safety law

The United States Government has agreed to send an official from the US Department of Commerce to sensitise local state officials, business organisations, exporters and potential exporters to the requirements of the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), regulations which set a number of challenging new criteria for the importation of food items into the US.

Stabroek Business has learnt that the Department of Commerce official will address issues pertaining to how local producers of foods can position themselves to benefit from US market access at an October 3 workshop, part of this year’s GuyExpo.

Widely regarded as the most sweeping reform of American food safety laws in more than half a century, the FSMA was signed into law by President Barack Obama in February 2011. It is aimed at ensuring the safety of US food supplies by shifting the focus from responding to food contamination to preventing it.

The announcement that interested parties in Guyana will benefit from a first-hand briefing from the US Department of commerce will be regarded as a breakthrough for current and would-be exporters of food items to the United States who have been expressing concerns over the slow pace of local response to the FSMA.

The FSMA requires that all foods imported into the US be produced under food-safe conditions and that a risk-based assessment be undertaken for such food products. The FSMA has mandated that random audits of international food producers be undertaken. Food producers who fail to meet the FSMA audit requirements will be blacklisted and prevented from exporting food to the US. This new reality means that any Caribbean food producer who is in breach of FSMA regulations can negatively affect millions of dollars in foreign exchange revenue earned from commodities like rum and sugar.

Stabroek Business understands that the move to have Guyana benefit from US Department of Commerce intervention comes in the wake of worry expressed by local producers with modest US export markets that little was being done by the authorities here to help position exporters and potential exporters to meet the FSMA requirements. More than a year ago the local Food and Drugs Department had warned that small businesses in Guyana could be seriously challenged in their quest to garner the resources necessary to render their food-manufacturing facilities FSMA-compliant.

Earlier this year, the Guyana National Bureau of Standards (GNBS) hosted a one-day food safety symposium on meeting FSMA standards though several local manufacturers and farmers have told Stabroek Business that they know little about the FSMA and its requirements.

Guyana is widely regarded as trailing much of the rest of the Caribbean in terms of its efforts to become FSMA-compliant. Jamaican firms have long been in communication with the US Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) and have already been subjected to inspections of a range of food facilities that export to the US.

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