July 27, 2010
Daniel: Food safety must be our watchword

The Ministry of Agriculture has identified a need to be able to trace locally produced crops back to the farms from which they were harvested.{{more}}

Agriculture Minister Montgomery Daniel, who is also a farmer, said on Monday that farmers have to ensure that food safety “begins with us”.

He was addressing the opening ceremony of a one-week food safety training course in Kingstown, involving local food producers and two of their Dominican colleagues.

Daniel said the demand for more food, internationally, has led to the use of more chemicals and more Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in agriculture.

He however said some farmers were using chemicals in such “frightening” quantities that his ministry is concerned about how consumers might be affected.

Daniel said agriculture is a business, and local produce should be able to compete.

“In this hostile environment, our competitors must not be seen to have any advantage above what we can do. Not at all, at anytime, [should] our produce … be questionable for its quality or its presentation,” Daniel said.

“Food safety must be our watchword and we must develop the art and the methods, the processes, whatever it takes to guarantee the production of safe food,” he said.

He further said that his ministry will be paying greater attention to the grading and packaging of produce both for local and export consumption, adding that handling is also a problem.

“Sometimes, the produce that leaves the farms, three hours later, is not the same quality … It is all because of the handling, the care taken by those who are involved,” he said.

Daniel’s comments came even as Minister of Health Dr. Douglas Slater said locally produced food could become contaminated through agricultural and industrial chemicals.

He spoke of cases of lead and mercury poisoning in Jamaica and Nigeria, where car batteries were disposed of near agricultural lands.

“It gets caught up in the food cycle and does very significant damage to citizens,” said Slater, who is a medical doctor.

While Slater said he believes that St. Vincent and the Grenadines imports too much food, he said Customs officials must be trained to recognized, even in the absence of any foul odours, foods that might be contaminated.

“We have to ensure that the imported food comes here in a state that is appropriate, and is safe for consumption,” Slater said.

“They say that what you don’t see doesn’t hurt you, but that isn’t so in food safety at all. In fact, on the contrary, it is because you cannot see or detect what is happening with our food, why it is so important…” Slater said.

Slater said SVG has “to find a right balance” as it faces the conflict of maximum production per acre and the potential negative consequences of using fertilizers and other chemicals.

The training sessions are being facilitated by Dr. Andrew Graffman of the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich.

Graffman told SEARCHLIGHT that the workshop would examine food safety, from the farm to the consumer.

“It is not enough to have enough food or food which is aesthetically appealing or [of a] good quality. It also has to be safe, and food safety often is something which isn’t visible,” Graffman said.

The training sessions, which end on Friday, will also examine traceability and record keeping, risk assessment and control, and will include a visit to a farm to evaluate safety risks.

The participants will be issued certificates at the end of the training. (KXC)