The Government Analyst-Food & Drugs Department (GA-FDD) of the Ministry of Public Health has taken a major step in the direction of meeting the laboratory testing standards necessary to satisfy the safety requirements of the United States’ Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), the 2010 legal standards benchmark for the importation of foods into that country, the Department’s Director, Marlan Cole told Stabroek Business in an interview earlier this week.
The GA-FDD, according to Cole, is about to secure International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 17025 laboratory accreditation, the single most important standard for calibration and testing laboratories around the world.
Laboratories that are accredited to this international standard have demonstrated that they are technically competent and able to produce precise and accurate test and/or calibration data.
Cole told Stabroek Business that the accreditation is a critical facet of the Department’s efforts to upgrade its capacity “to support its push for increased exports of locally produced agricultural and agro-processed goods to the United States and other key global markets.”
Cole said that in order to secure the accreditation the GA-FDD had to be subjected to a two-year process which required the Department to prepare a laboratory manual and detailed standard operating procedures as well as create the convivial in-lab environmental conditions and attest to the skills of laboratory staff. “We have been able to achieve these requirements in spite of the limitations that we have had to endure,” Cole told Stabroek Business.
According to the GA-FDD Director while years of marginalization may have impacted negatively on the morale of the institution, its leadership was never really in any serious doubt about the value of its role. “Guyana exports thousands of tonnes of rice, coconuts, and fresh greens and vegetables to other countries and there is no way you can get around the food safety regulations that are tied to countries’ importation policies. We need to be able to have the food that we export properly certified in order for them to find acceptance in other countries and that is where we (the GA-FDD) come in,” Cole said.
And Cole told the Stabroek Business that the GA-FDD sees itself as much more than the institution that certifies the safety of food and other commodities.
“We believe we are partners in the actual production process”, he said. Contextually, Cole noted that the direct role of the GA-FDD had already been validated by local institutions including the NAREI and the GMSA. “I believe that there is a recognition by NAREI and the GMSA, among others of the importance of the certifying role that we play. There is an understanding that given the importance that countries attach to food safety, these days, the role of the Department in helping to give our own exports, our sugar, our rice, our coconuts a clean bill of health is clearly recognized.
This year, the GMSA bestowed one of its annual awards on the GA-FDD acknowledging its “institutional support for local food and beverage producers in their penetration of both local and regional markets.”
Cole, meanwhile, told Stabroek Business that “on the whole” the GA-FDD was impressed with the quality of many of the food products manufactured locally. Our manufacturers do good, solid work and there is a case for saying that we probably have more to fear from the unauthorized and in many instances sub-standard products that are smuggled into the country than from those produced here.
And according to Cole the GA-FDD’s sense of importance of its own role had been buoyed by confirmation this year of the allocation of land at Turkeyen for the establishment of a modern complex to house the facility. He disclosed that the Government of Guyana had already secured the services of the Jamaican entity, Technology Solutions Ltd. as Consultants to the building project.
“They are the consultants for the project. They are specialists at conceptualizing this kind of institution and they have been contracted to see that the building moves from start to finish. Tenders will go out for construction after the architect designs the building. The building will be done in 2019. The new facility also takes account of the need for new laboratories.” He said that despite the oversight presence members of the existing staff of the GA-FDD are being canvassed for their opinions on the structure,
And according to Cole, Government has already commenced its search for experienced and qualified persons to manage the new facility. “We’re looking to have the advent of the new building coincide with building capacity. We’ll be looking at attracting both new blood and institutional memory,” Cole said.
Turning to the agency’s successes in 2017 Cole said that the GA-FDD was ‘fairly satisfied” with the extent to which it had been able to “train and sensitize” local manufacturers in the importance of safety protocols and practices. “A lot of our manufacturers are now trained Preventive Control Qualified Individuals (PCQI’S) and that training was facilitated by the GA-FDD,” Cole said