With the increasing and worrisome proliferation of prohibited and potentially dangerous food imports into Guyana and the patent limitations in the ability of the Government Analyst Food and Drugs Department (GA-FDD) to address what is believed to be a regime deliberately contrived by some importers to maximize their profits at the expense of the nation’s health, Acting Director of the GA-FDD Marlan Cole has been persistent in his insistence that the department needs to enhance its capacity.
On Tuesday he did not appear quite ready to respond to the announcement in Finance Minister Winston Jordan’s 2017 budget presentation that the GA-FDD had been allocated $110 million.
In recent days Cole has had to face a public demonstration by importers accusing him of bias in the execution of his duties that appeared to come like a bolt from the blue, as well as a summons to the office of Public Health Minister Dr George Norton.
But when asked to comment on those developments, Cole quickly turned to the matter of the balance between the department’s budget allocation and its pressing needs in the period ahead, when it will have to “raise its game” in response to defence mechanisms created by developed countries against potentially harmful food imports, as reflected chiefly in the United States’ Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Contextually, Cole pointed particularly to the reference made by the Finance Minister to a particular “area of focus” in the health sector, the construction of new laboratories, an initiative designed “to ensure that there are adequate food safety mechanisms in place, …reducing the country’s dependency on overseas testing“ and “bringing our laboratory facilities up to a modern and international standard.” That apart, Jordan announced that “progress is being made by the Food and Drugs Department to gain accreditation for its laboratories, which certify food product manufacturers, exporters, and re-packagers.”
“It’s a start,” Cole told Stabroek Business, alluding particularly to the announcement by Jordan that setting aside the $110 million “budgeted for the Food and Drugs Department to begin construction of a new laboratory and administrative building, a further $65 million has been allocated to procure laboratory supplies, quality control aids, and proficiency testing materials.”
This is not to say that vulnerabilities do not persist. There is, Cole said, the pressing need to address issues of wages and salaries if only to help stave off the temptations that are sometimes made by those seeking to circumvent the law. There is also the issue of manpower. As far as critical inspections are concerned, he said, “There are simply not enough people to go around. We need more trained and competent people if the system is to work well.”
What the GA-FDD Acting Director said pleased him most about last week’s events including the demonstration targeting him was the “very public support” that he received from the Guyana Manufacturers and Services Association (GMSA). “That was good for the department. The credibility of the GMSA far exceeds that of the people who are seeking to do illegal food imports,” he said.