The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will embark on a National Food Safety Compliance pilot project for the export market, as it looks to improve the safety of fresh produce being exported to the United States as well as those consumed in Jamaica.
Being funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) at a cost of approximately $49 million, the initiative will see the training of some 3,600 farmers in Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and safe and effective use of pesticides beginning this month.
It is part of efforts by the government to ensure compliance with the United States Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).
Speaking at a press briefing at the Ministry’s Hope Gardens offices in St. Andrew on September 12, Portfolio Minister, Hon. Roger Clarke, said that every effort must be made to conform with the legislation to prevent any fall out in the agricultural sector and by extension, the national economy.
He noted that the US represents one of the country’s major markets, with exports of yam, hot pepper, ackee and callaloo to the country amounting to $2 billion (approximately US$22.4 million) in 2010.
As part of the measures to ensure compliance, another pilot programme involving 200 farmers and 20 fresh produce exporters will also be implemented. They will be trained in FSMA sensitisation-GAPs; personal hygiene and food safety, (with the provision of food handlers’ permits); and safe and effective use of pesticides.
“Funds will also be made available to the pilot programme to assist with improving farm infrastructure, including personal hygiene, sanitation, bathrooms, erection of packing sheds, pesticide storage areas and employee recreational areas,” Mr. Clarke stated.
He further noted that under the project, the competencies of the Ministry and Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) officers will be upgraded under the Joint Institute for Food Safety Applied Nutrition (JIFSAN) GAP programme offered by the University of Maryland.
The programme, he said, is based on the ‘Train-the-Trainer’ concept and focuses on providing countries with an adaptable framework of practices. The use of these practices, when disseminated and implemented, improves the safety of fresh produce being exported to the US as well as that consumed in Jamaica.
The FSMA, being implemented by the US Food and Drug Administration(FDA), was signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 4, 2011. It aims to ensure that the US food supply is safe by shifting the focus of federal regulators from responding to contamination to preventing it.