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KINGSTON — The Jamaica Exporters' Association (JEA) has urged local exporters to comply with the regulations included in the recently signed United States Food Safety Modernisation Act, or risk being barred from that market.

Speaking at a press briefing Wednesday July 20, at the JEA's Winchester Road headquarters, Vice President, JEA, Dr. Andre Gordon, said the requirements under the Act, which was passed in January could have significant implications for local exporters. He said it could see a number of players being forced out of the US market, if they do not seek to implement the guidelines.

“If exporters of all types of food products going into the US don’t ensure that they meet these requirements within the next twelve months, we could find many of our exporters out of the US market,” he warned.

According to Dr. Gordon, Jamaica earns approximately US$80 million annually from the export of food products to the United States.

“We therefore need all exporters to understand that they need to ensure that they meet the requirements, not only of the Food Safety Modernisation Act, but also of all relevant FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulations governing their businesses,” he said.

The new legislation covers all growers, manufacturers, processors, and exporters and will see Jamaica being subjected to 50 inspections by the FDA over a twelve month period, starting January 2012.

Under the Act, all exporting firms will be required to implement acceptable systems to trace and recall their products, as well as to prevent intentional contamination of food.

Dr. Gordon noted that in the past, under the Bioterrorism Act, exporters were only required to follow “a one step forward, one step backward” rule. This meant that exporters only needed to trace the food items they were exporting to the next person receiving it – one step forward; and to the person that immediately supplied them the inputs – one step backward.

He said the main difference with the new Act is that all firms will now be required to implement a product tracing system, to receive information that improves their capacity to effectively and rapidly track and trace food that is in the US, or is offered for import into the US.

“What that means is that firms now need to significantly enhance their capabilities to track and trace quickly, where a product has been shipped and so they are able to say where it has been shipped, so that it can be recalled,” he said.

Dr. Gordon noted that another major rule is that all firms are now required to implement the food safety system known as HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). This means that exporters will now have to handle, plan, test, and document food safety control.

“Many exporting firms had some kind of system in place, but… many firms don’t really have the kinds of system that are now being required,” he remarked.

Under the new Act, the HACCP plan has to be documented and updated every two years or sooner, if the company changes suppliers, processes or changes any ingredient. Companies will also be required to share their food safety plans with the FDA on request.

Exporters will also have to ensure that all food coming into the US meets FDA food-safety standards under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The JEA Vice President noted that the implementation of the HACCP might be one of the most challenging requirements for many local exporters, as the venture can often be quite costly.

According to Director, JEA, Michael Ming the HACCP facility could cost companies between US$30,000 and US$800,000, depending on the size and the type of programme implemented.

 

By ATHALIAH REYNOLDS, JIS Reporter