Food & Drug Dep’t recruits Jamaican firm to upgrade local coconut water testing

Visiting Roopan Ramotar’s Pomeroon coconut estate

In what is being seen here as a response to last January’s seizure by the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago of a consignment of coconut water from Guyana on the grounds that it failed to meet the requisite food safety standard and therefore could not be sold there, Director of the Govern-ment Analyst-Food & Drugs Department (GA-FDD)Marlan Cole has told Stabroek Business that the agency has secured the services of a Jamaican consulting agency

The Jamaican consulting entity will conduct what he says will be “hands on training for Laboratory Technicians, Inspectors and other technical personnel designed to upgrade their food safety testing capabilities”.

On Wednesday Cole told Stabroek Business that while the training exercise was part of the continual process of enhancing the capabilities of the staff of the GA-FDD “in anticipation with its greater responsibilities” the decision to undertake this training programme at this particular time had to do with what the Department saw as the need to help protect what is regarded as the potentially lucrative market for coconut and its by-products. “One of the issues that we have taken account of is the recent rejection of coconut water originating in Guyana by the authorities in Trinidad and Tobago”,  Cole told Stabroek Business.

Cole told Stabroek Business that the recruitment of Tech Sol, which has previously undertaken training for the GA-FDD coincides with the acquisition of the technical kits “necessary to enhance the ability of the Depart-ment to undertake the full array of technical tests in order to ensure the testing and proper bottling of coconut water.” Cole explained that while the Department already has “some” testing facilities, sustained upgrading was necessary if GA-FDD was to fulfill its role  “in terms of both protecting existing markets and helping to create new ones”.

Stabroek Business understands that the Guyana National Bureau of Standards will also be participating in the training exercise.

Late last year controversy erupted  over a shipment of coconut water sent to Trinidad and Tobago by local producer Roopan Ramotar under his Rooster Brand when the authorities in Port of Spain blocked retail sales in the twin-island Republic on safety grounds despite the fact that tests done here by the GA-FDD had given the coconut water a clean bill of health. At the time Cole had conceded that there were limitations to the testing capabilities of the Department even though he assured that such tests as were carried out were, to his knowledge, sufficient to satisfy CARICOM requirements. Previous shipments of coconut water to Trinidad and Tobago have come under query on safety grounds.

Cole told Stabroek Business that the one-week hands-on training programme will commence on Monday with a visit to the Rooster bottling facility on the Essequibo Coast as well as its farm in the Pomeroon River.