As if the message wasn’t clear before, it should surely be crystal clear now.
Barbados needs to focus more on growing its own food.
For the umpteenth time, an imported product has been flagged for contamination and has had to be pulled from supermarket shelves, or in this particular case, chillers.
Earlier this week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an advisory after several people in North America were sickened by consuming some brands of romaine lettuce.
Their illnesses were linked to the outbreak of a particular strain of E. coli bacteria which causes severe diarrhoea.
It is the second time for the year the CDC has issued an advisory regarding romaine lettuce grown in the US.
As a result, our Ministry of Health and Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs issued an alert about the outbreak of E. coli from romaine lettuce in the United States and Canada.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service also recalled some turkey products linked to a salmonella outbreak ahead of America’s biggest holiday, Thanksgiving.
One person in California has died and 63 people have been hospitalized as a result.
Happily, no red flag has yet been raised here in Barbados. Yet.
According to a check of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 26 products in the US have been recalled for the month of November – alone.
But perhaps we should not be finding ourselves in a position where a vegetable such as romaine lettuce has had to be imported, not as gourmet extra but as staple.
It was only back in April that the Ministry of Agriculture launched a project to increase local production with the aim of reducing lettuce importation.
At that time, it was revealed that while the cultivation of the local loose-leafed lettuce remained high, substantial quantities of the romaine and iceberg varieties were being imported.
On the 2011 food import bill, lettuce was the fifth most imported vegetable, with over 287,000 kilogrammes brought in at a cost of more than $680,000.
And while CEO of the Barbados Agricultural Society James Paul was correct in calling for stricter health and safety monitoring on imported foods, the bigger question is why is Barbados even importing such a large amount of romaine lettuce when it can be grown right here?
The irony is greater still when farmers continued to struggle to get their products on supermarket shelves as Paul confirmed this week.
It is baffling why a Barbadian farmer would find difficulty in getting his or her romaine lettuce sold when we have been importing more than half a million dollars of the same lettuce from the US and Canada.
Only last month, the BAS chief executive also urged Government to stop the importation of chicken wings, warning that a glut was imminent.
You wouldn’t think from such an appeal that Barbados is 90 per cent self-sufficient in poultry production. Yet it is.
Now with the country’s food import bill at almost half a billion dollars, there is absolutely no reason why this country should continues to import vast quantities of produce that is available locally.
There was no mention of farming in the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transition (BERT) programme, but surely Government can save millions of dollars in precious foreign exchange by adopting a ‘home-first’ food stance.
At a time when Government is looking to save every possible dollar, those products which are produced locally should not be imported, not by a mere ban, but by so boosting production as to make imports unnecessary.
Nonetheless, whether it be romaine lettuce, chicken wings or coconut water, the relevant authorities should only allow such products to be imported if there is an acute shortage and local farmers have acknowledged they cannot meet the demand.
Furthermore, locally grown products are seldom flagged for contamination, therefore making them far safer to consume.
There has been enough talk about Barbados becoming self-sufficient. Now is the time for action, for nothing if not safety’s sake.