GOVERNMENT is currently looking at ways to enhance its ability to inspect food facilities overseas, as part of new food safety regulations which will come into effect next year.
Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr Marc Panton, described it as "an important step" that the Government is making as it aims to ensure that food imports consumed by locals are healthy.
"We need improvement in terms of our ability to inspect and ensure what does come from (overseas) is solid before it even gets to Jamaican shores," Panton told the Business Observer yesterday.
"It's a matter of monitoring, surveillance and enforcement; we can always improve in those areas," he said.
Panton compared the measure to what the US will be doing under its new regulations, the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), which comes into effect in January.
"It will take some more resources and structured visits, and is essentially what the US is doing," said Panton, noting that "They are essentially saying 'we are going to inspect a number of times per year, at our random selection times' and you must at all times meet these requirements."
The FSMA introduced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that by 2012, all processed foods entering the country must be tested by an accredited laboratory.
The FDA has advised that in early 2012 it will be conducting 50 audits among Jamaican businesses that export to the US. Under the new Act, among other procedures, companies are required to share their food safety plans with the FDA upon request; write and implement food safety protocols to mitigate potential hazards; and implement acceptable traceability and recall mechanisms.
Likewise in Jamaica, the importation of food will be done under new regulations as of early next year, as the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries moves to improve the standards and safety of all imported foods into the country.
According to Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Robert Montague, the move has come about as part of Jamaica's Food Safety Policy, recently approved by Cabinet.
He said that the ministries of agriculture and fisheries and health have been mandated to take action on the policy.
"One of the first things we are doing at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is to put in place the requisite regulations to govern the safety of the food that our people consume. And chief among this is the requirement, come early next year, those countries that export food to Jamaica must also meet the standards laid down by Jamaican law," he said.
Montague pointed out that food processors in Jamaica have to be registered and their operations inspected by the Ministry of Health, Factories Corporation, Parish Councils and Bureau of Standards, and if they do not meet all the necessary criteria, they cannot operate as a food processor.
He insisted that any food being imported into Jamaica as of early next year will have to meet all the required standards that apply to local food processors.