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The Impact of Food Safety and Plant Health Standards in Jamaica

SANITARY AND PHYTOSANITARY (SPS) CAPACITY IN JAMAICA

A number of evaluations have been undertaken of SPS capacity in Jamaica as a whole (Reid 2000, IICA 2000, Focal Point 2004, National Quality Infrastructure Project 2001) as well as particular sub-elements (see, for example, Canale 2002), so the authors have a relatively clear picture of the prevailing strengths and weaknesses in the context of emerging food safety and plant and animal health requirements in international trade.

Broadly, the picture is of a SPS control system in which the core legislation and functional capacities are in place but are in need of significant updating and modification to reflect evolving international standards and the requirements of the WTO. At the same time, however, the system suffers from being highly fragmented, with a lack of clearly defined responsibilities and poor coordination. Overall responsibility for SPS controls in Jamaica involves a number of government ministries and agencies and more than 20 different pieces of legislation and attendant regulations (Reid 2000). The key institutions are as follows: ‰

  • Ministry of Health (in particular, the Health Promotion and Public Health Division,
  • National Public Health Laboratory and Pesticides Control Authority) ‰
  • Ministry of Agriculture (in particular, the Plant Quarantine/Produce Inspection Unit and Veterinary Services Division) ‰
  • Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Technology (in particular, the Food Storage and Prevention of Infestation Division) ‰
  • Jamaica Bureau of Standards (JBS) .

In many cases, there is a direct overlap of responsibilities. Examples include the overlap of the Pesticides Control Authority and the Food Storage and Prevention of Infestation Division in relation to the licensing of pest control operators, and the inspection and approval of food processing operations by both the JBS and Ministry of Health. This duplication of functions leads both to a waste of resources and the lack of coverage of key areas of capacity. Likewise, it has fragmented the capacity that does exist, most notably with respect to laboratories. There are a number of laboratories in Jamaica, all of which have limited capacity themselves and could benefit from economies of scale and/or scope (table 3).

The Jamaican government has recognized the need for SPS controls to be better coordinated and for the consolidation of responsibilities. Thus, it has established a National Agricultural Health and Food Safety Coordinating Committee (NAHFSCC), which has been given the responsibility: “to establish and maintain a rational and integrated farm-to-table agricultural health and food safety system in Jamaica that harmonizes inter-agency efforts, minimizes inter-agency conflict and overlap, and ensures the protection of public health in a manner consistent with WTO and other international standards."

Some 23 agencies and departments are represented on the committee. The NAHSFCC is expected to focus on all aspects of food safety and agricultural health, formulating a national policy and making recommendations for a food safety agency. A National Quality Policy for Jamaica was agreed in October 2001, including the establishment of a single food safety agency charged with all SPS issues. However, this policy has yet to be approved by Cabinet, and is not expected to be, in the foreseeable future. Memoranda of Understanding have been agreed among the Ministries of Health, Agriculture and Commerce, Science and 9 Technology, but these have not yet been officially signed.

The Coordinating Committee itself has no authority and little coordinating capacity. These developments highlight the considerable inertia and resistance to change within the established administrative structure for SPS management in Jamaica and the political sensitivities associated with proposed reforms. Thus, the way forward looks likely to consist of the reallocation of existing responsibilities rather than a fundamental change in existing administrative structures, perhaps as part of a gradual and longer-term move to a single agency.

Table 3. Existing laboratories for chemical analyses in Jamaica

  • Agency Analysis
  • Veterinary Services Division Residues
  • National Public Health Laboratory Clinical analyses
  • Government chemist Forensic testing
  • Food Storage and Prevention of Infestation Division Pesticide residues
  • Jamaican Bureau of Standards Chemical analysis of processed foods
  • Scientific Research Council Chemical analysis of processed foods
  • University of the West Indies: ICENS Heavy metals
  • University of the West Indies: Chemistry Department Residues, contaminants, toxic pollutants
Source: Focal Point (2004).

Next, this study reviews the prevailing levels of capacity with respect to food safety and plant health. Given that the study’s focus is agricultural and food exports, there is no explicit assessment of capacity relating to animal health, although veterinary public health is discussed :

FOOD SAFETY

Overall responsibility for food safety in Jamaica lies with the Ministry of Health (MoH) under the Public Health Act (1975) and Food and Drugs Act (1974). The Health Promotion and Protection Division (HPPD) is responsible for establishing policy and guidance with respect to food safety and veterinary public health. For the purposes of enforcement, the Ministry of Health is decentralized into four Regional Authorities that provide health services in their respective areas.

The Environmental Health Unit (EHU) has 250 inspectors who regulate food handlers, inspect processing, and retail premises. A comparable Veterinary Public Health Program (VPHP) undertakes inspection of slaughtering facilities and meat and fish processing facilities. Inspectors must be present at all times that slaughtering/processing occurs. The MoH operates the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), which undertakes water monitoring; microbiological testing; and surveillance of meat, fish, and dairy products.

With respect to meat and fishery products for export, the Competent Authority charged with certification is the Veterinary Services Division (VSD) of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). As such, the VSD has no authority to inspect meat and/or fish processing facilities, which initially created problems with respect to fish exports to the European Union (see below). Thus, in February 1999 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the MoA and MoH whereby the inspection activities of the MoH were recognized for the purposes of export certification, and much of this function is still undertaken by VPHP inspectors.

The need for such an MOU and the way in which it has operated provide another example of the lack of 10 clarity in the allocation of administrative responsibilities within the food safety and agricultural health management system in Jamaica. The VSD also operates a residue monitoring program for meat, fish, and poultry.

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