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KINGSTON — Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, will in another week, meet with exporters of food and related products who are not currently compliant with the United States' new Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA), which takes effect in January 2012.

Addressing a recent press briefing at the Ministry in New Kingston, where he outlined measures being taken by the Government to ensure that the local food exporting industry is prepared and fully compliant with the new legislation, Dr. Tufton explained that this dialogue with industry players is “part of the wider dialogue to underline the importance of meeting Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) requirements, in order to mitigate the impact on our exports, to protect Jamaican jobs, and to improve our export levels."

Dr. Tufton stressed that failure to comply with the new laws would have dire consequences for the local food industry, as it could mean being denied access to the US market.

"It's (the new legislation) an important initiative. In a sense, it offers a threat to our existing exports, but in another sense, I believe it offers an opportunity for us to standardise, modernise and improve our efficiencies. For a very long time, some of our exporters have ignored the need for standardisation, and it may have been influenced by a number of things – high interest rates, access to funds, lack of technical support, and even complacency in some instances," he said.

The Minister noted that the FSMA will force exporters to recognise the need for this level of certification, and in that process, they will be encouraged and motivated to become more competitive.

Currently, he said, of the 84 fresh produce exporters and 70 processed food exporters, only 10 are HACCP compliant firms, with these being primarily ackee processors. Meanwhile, most manufacturers have varying levels of International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) certification.

Acknowleding that  only four months remain before the FSMA takes effect, Dr. Tufton said since US President Barack Obama announced the new legislation in January of this year, the industry has been aware and some players have begun to address the deficiencies in their operations, while the Ministry has been doing its own assessments.

Dr. Tufton further pointed out that if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were  to strictly apply the rules, based on the current situation, this would mean a fallout for the local industry come next year. However, he noted that some aspects of the legislation make provisions for periods of adjustments.

"In fact, the laws are in many instances being applied to the US marketplace. We have to get our house in order (and) we are hoping that the dialogue with them (FDA) will allow us some flexibility, so once these companies are doing certain things correctly, then time would be allowed for them to be fully compliant,” the Minister said.

"We believe that it is sufficiently important to raise the level of awareness among the critical stakeholders, and also, where we can, assist those entities in meeting those requirements, so that we do not compromise our capacity to export. Our response is to raise awareness and work with the critical stakeholders in trying to find an approach that will enhance the responsiveness to the new requirements, and set these companies on a track towards certification as quickly as possible,” Dr. Tufton added.

The Ministry is therefore working with a number of stakeholders to facilitate the process, including the EXIM Bank, which is providing a $100 million line of credit to enable businesses to purchase equipment and other vital implements to bring their operations up to par; the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ), the Jamaica Exporters Association (JEA), the Ministry of Health, Veterinary Services Division, the Plant Quarantine Division, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, the Scientific Research Council, the Food Storage and Prevention of Infestation Division, and the Jamaica National Agency of Accreditation (JANAAC).

By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter