This word of caution has come from the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) representative in Barbados Ena Harvey.
Addressing the opening of a two-day workshop at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre this morning, Harvey noted that the changes to the US Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), and associated regulations cover the entire food supply chain, including manufacturers, food processors, packers and food distributors.
Harvey said it was therefore critical for industry players to become familiar with the legislation.
“The FSMA will directly affect our trade in the region with the US. It is expected to have specific implications, especially for small and micro businesses that are interested in exporting to the US over the medium and long term. And it has the potential to reduce the current level of the region’s agro exports to that market if we don’t meet the compliance requirements,” she warned.
The legislation, which establishes a minimum standard for safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables, also affects farmers and exporters of fresh produce.
“These will speak to . . . workers’ health and hygiene, package, temperature controls and water quality – what we know as good agricultural practices. Businesses will have to establish written preventative control plans and be able to show traceability,” she said.
“At least ten food safety mandates will be enforced and these include foreign supplies and verification programmes which put the onus on you, companies who are exporting food, and it puts the onus on your importers to verify that you have measures in place to ensure safety.
“Importers have to carry out risk-based verification checks to ensure that what you export to them is . . . produced according to preventive control requirements and safety standard set out by the FDA,” she explained.
Acknowledging that many local and regional companies were already meeting the US standards, Harvey said in order to get the entire industry ready, more support “at many levels” was needed.
She said it was also critical for local authorities to ensure that industry players, as well as visitors, were meeting high standards in the local market, “given the integral part which food plays in the region’s vital tourism industry, and the potential for marketing our region as a culinary destination.
“We must take example from the US and from this FSMA to put our own house in order,” she said, adding that the legislation provided an opportunity for review of the current food safety strategy.
She said IICA was working with a number of developmental partners to promote “strong” food safety cultures and to create accountability across the food chain in order to ensure a coordinated and integrated approach.
Over the next two days, participants are expected to examine in detail what FSMA means for Barbados and the Caribbean. They will also have the opportunity to test their export readiness through the application of a special IICA tool.
In this regard, Dr Beverley Wood of the Ministry of Agriculture gave the assurance that the Government was working to put measures in place to ensure compliance, help raise local standards and improve competitiveness.