Evidence supports Gov’t Analyst decision to refuse condensed milk import

– Chief Justice

Chief Justice (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards on Friday ruled that the Government Analyst-Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD) had provided sufficient evidence to support its decision to deny entry into the country of a container of condensed milk from Malaysia.

City businessman Rafik Ahmad, the owner of Superfoods Inc, had filed a court action seeking the release of the container of sweetened condensed milk which arrived in Guyana last December. His court action came after months of discussions and was a last ditch attempt to gain possession of the milk, which expired in October.

A release from the Attorney General’s Chambers said Justice Cummings-Edwards discharged the Order or Rule Nisi of Certiorari in the matter on the ground that Government Analyst-Food and Drug Department/ Director of Food and Drug (Respondent) had shown sufficient cause that his decision on the 23rd day of May, 2016 to refuse entry to the Applicant’s container currently detained by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) was lawful and done in accordance with the Food and Drugs Act, Chapter 34:04 and Food and Drugs Regulations 1977 in conjunction with section 43 Schedule II of the Customs Act, Chapter 82:01.

On June 6, the judge had issued an interim order quashing the decision made by the Food and Drug Department.

The AG’s Chambers explained that in this case the Applicant had attempted to import Moi Sweetened Condensed milk product which is a vegetable fat based milk and not a dairy product as required by Part IV, Division 5 (Dairy Products)(13) of the Food and Drugs Regulations, 1977.

Attorney Anil Nandlall appeared on behalf of the Applicant while Attorney Judy Stuart appeared on behalf of the Attorney General.

Nandlall had told this newspaper that the container had been on the wharf since December 2015 and was only inspected by the Food and Drug Department in May this year. Stabroek News subsequently learnt that customs documents only reached the department in February and on arrival there were a number of discrepancies. This newspaper was told too that the document also had a forged signature.

The document listed the item as powdered milk which is exempted from duty. This newspaper was told that in late March when the container was examined and a sample retrieved it was discovered that it was in fact condensed milk.

Fresh documents were later sent to the department this time recording the item as sweetened condensed milk for which almost $1.5 million were paid in tax. Further examination of the product by the department concluded that it was not fit to be consumed.

In his affidavit in support of the Notice of Motion, Ahmad said that one of the products regularly imported is milk in various forms including powered milk and sweetened condensed milk. This has been occurring over the last five years without any complaints about the quality. He said these imports have been “without any problems whether at the point of entry into Guyana, that is either by the Guyana Revenue Authority or the Government Analyst- Food and Drug Department or any other agency.”

The businessman explained that on October 26, 2015 he ordered from one of his regular suppliers, Mewah Dairies a 20-foot container of sweetened condensed milk containing 1,325 cartons. The container arrived in Guyana on December 30, 2015.

He said that sometime after the milk arrived here it was stated that the labels appeared fake. On another occasion the argument was that the milk constituents fell short of the requirements for evaporated milk.

Attempts, he said, were made to explain the difference between sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk but the director of the department “appeared to be incapable of understanding the difference.

“In a view of avoiding litigation and the looming expiry date of October, 2016, I have been in discussions with the Director of the Government Analyst-Food and Drug Department regarding the real reason for the refusal and what, if any, steps can be taken to come to a resolution,” the businessman said.

He added that prior to the container’s arrival he had all the required documentation and on this basis applied to the GRA for clearance of the said container on May 23, 2016.

He said that when he took the Tax Assessment Notice to the department which is located at the University of Guyana he was informed that “the constituents of the milk are not in keeping with the Food and Drug Regula-tions for the fat content and milk content required of the sweetened condensed milk.” He said this was the third occasion that a different explanation for the refusal was given.

Ahmad said Director Marlan Cole stamped ‘Entry Refused’ on his customs declaration form and to date he had been unable to clear or obtain delivery of the said container.