One of the island’s top agriculture officials is warning that the health of local consumers could be compromised due to the high consumption of imported foods.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Elsworth Reid addressed the matter Tuesday morning at the start of a two-day regional workshop on food traceability, organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.
Reid said consumption of imported food products left the public vulnerable to food-borne illnesses, and he also raised concern that in some instances importing countries were not notified of food recalls until months after the product had been consumed.
“My concern about anything dealing with food safety and traceability exercises in countries such as ours is the need for exercises like these to stretch beyond country shores and local produce and to include imported food into the health traceability network.
“Very often certain food products which we import and consume are recalled in the producing and exporting countries. And we in the importing country only hear of the recall sometimes months after the fact.” Reid said.
He added that the Caribbean also needed to address the issue of labelling of food products to allow members of the public to be aware of what they were consuming.
“What I have seen in Barbados, which I believe is very dangerous and threatens the health of Barbadian consumers, is the practice of some importers and distributors, whose only motive is to make profit, to import and sell products in packages with labels written solely in languages that the ordinary man cannot read or understand.
“Although the product within the package may not be contaminated with life-threatening food-borne disease, an individual who may only be able to buy a product because it is cheap in price, they have to consume the product without being able to read the label,” Reid said.
According to the agriculture official, if countries are to seriously consider establishing a mechanism to protect food safety, they also need to put in place a system that places standards on labelling, and on stopping importers from importing and distributing these kinds of products.
“We in Barbados and the wider Caribbean have been fortunate so far not to have to deal with any outbreak of food-borne illness that cannot be easily detected. However the more we substitute imported goods for locally produced foods, and the more we expand the scope of our food imports, and sources of our food imports, the more we expose ourselves to that risk,” Reid said.