The disclosure that the Government Analyst Food & Drugs Department (GAFDD) has been awarded the ISO/IEC 17025:2005 Standard is a welcome boost for what, over the years, has been one of the most neglected and maligned public sector agencies in Guyana.
ISO/IEC17025:2005 specifies the general requirements for the competence to carry out tests and/or calibrations, including sampling. According to a GAFDD release the laboratories accredited under the award include the Food Chemistry, Food Microbiology, Excise and Water Chemistry Laboratories.
The ISO mechanism is a globally recognized quality management system that can be integrated into any business. It is focused on ensuring that businesses deliver a consistent level of quality to its customers by having well defined and regularly reviewed processes and procedures. Globally, the manufacturing sector, particularly, has adopted the ISO regime given its considerable value as a sales and marketing tool. Companies have developed an acute sense of how the standard can improve their business processes and realise waste-saving costs.
In the particular instance of the GAFDD, it is more than worth repeating that the award comes amidst what has often been robust criticism of a Department long burdened by an absence of both human and material resources with which to pursue its objectives. It is worth mentioning as well, that the GAFDD, in its monitoring and certifying role for standards of some imports, particularly food and drug imports, has had to face what, frequently, has been a powerful pushback from corrupt importers boasting ‘friends in high places’ in their quest to find ways around standards associated with food and drug imports, particularly. At home, as the recent disclosure on standards of publicly vended drinking water reveals, some vendors have been found to be taking advantage of the fact that the Department lacks the human resources to thoroughly undertake its monitoring responsibilities.
It is therefore not without significance that the conferral of the ISO Award coincides with recent disclosures by government regarding what amounts to a considerable overhaul of the GAFDD, including the creation of new premises, new laboratories and the upgrading of equipment. It is assumed as well that any upgrading will include the allocation of an enhanced complement of trained personnel.
This development has been triggered in part by the persistent public pressure (and ridicule) which the Department has come under on account of its shortcomings, as well as glaring evidence that Guyana can no longer continue to either run the risks associated with the importation and use of untested food and drugs, particularly given the relentless international proliferation of the fake products industry.
On the other hand, domestic pressures in most countries these days pertaining to the safety of food imports has given rise to a universal insistence of more stringent security mechanisms to monitor food imports. In the United States, for example, the vigour of the domestic lobby has given rise to the 2010 Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), legislation that has given rise to a considerable raising of the bar as far as the safety of food imports is concerned.
It will doubtless be recalled that the advent, and what at the time was its imminent application to locally produced food products targeting US markets, had given rise to active speculation as to whether the country’s agro-processing sector might not become a victim of the higher standards set by the United States’ FSMA. It is therefore hardly by accident that the release issued by the GAFDD in the wake of the ISO Award makes a particular point about the fact that “Guyana’s agro-processing industry will now be further supported to access international markets” on account of what it says is now its (the GAFDD’s) own “enhanced competence.”
Apart from giving recognition to the efforts of the GAFDD to hold its laboratories to a standard that has enabled the conferral of the ISO/IEC 17025:2005, it is apposite, we believe, to make the point that the Department has provided more than sufficient reason for government to now push ahead with its promised investment of the proposed ‘make over’ and to do so with a measure of alacrity which, frequently, does not attend official promises.
The reality is, that for reasons that have to do (and significantly so) with both the continued growth of the country’s manufacturing sector and the monitoring of the extent to which we are seriously measuring up to international standards, it would be decidedly unwise to continue to continue to overlook the importance of the GAFDD, as so often appears to be the case.