As 15 Caribbean countries enter the next phase of a project aimed at promoting greater food safety, the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder that they cannot take this matter lightly any longer, regional officials were told Wednesday.
A Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Project organised by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), the CARICOM Secretariat, the CARIFORUM bloc and Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) was launched here to step up training on food handling and processing in order to ensure food safety and meet international export standards.
Economist Gretchen Stanton, a member of IICA’s regional advisory committee, said: “This new SPS project comes at an interesting time in that we are now dealing with a pandemic. The question is, what can we do now in terms of food safety to minimise the impact if we are faced with a similar situation again?”
Stanton, an economist who worked with the World Trade Organisation’s Agricultural Division for 31 years said the coronavirus pandemic was a real-world example of the scenarios often created in training exercises.
She said: “I believe we will get through this pandemic, but what would have happened if COVID-19 was a foodborne disease? What if it had wiped out some of the major crops in the Caribbean region?”
“We must build up our ability to monitor veterinarians and animal health specialists to ensure that animal-based foods are produced with food safety standards in mind, and in rebuilding following this crisis, we must put systems in place to ensure that all food items produced are of the highest quality.”
The SPS Project’s manager, Janet Lawrence, outlined what the three-year initiative will entail. “The first six months will be the pre-implementation phase, while we will spend the next 30 months rolling projects out. It is aimed at the 15 CARIFORUM Member States, and we are seeking to strengthen the SPS regulatory framework first of all. We need to develop a regional agricultural health and food safety policy to undergird the regional framework in a better coordinated and more focused manner.
“In the previous project, we developed models for governing plant health, animal health, fisheries and food safety. Some countries started working in these areas while others will have to start. We also want to promote the implementation of national coordination mechanisms, by holding capacity building exercises to help the countries alleviate whatever challenges they were having in implementing these measures.”
Lawrence, who is IICA’s Hemispheric Specialist for Health and Food Safety, said some of the training will focus on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), gap auditing and anti-microbial resistance. The project will also seek top upgrade standards and testing laboratories to meet international standards.
In the area of fisheries, Lawrence said the project has developed videos and other tools to help workers in fish processing plants meet international standards. It will also be carrying out environmental monitoring, she added.
The project, which is funded under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF), is estimated to cost some 1.2 million Euros. The EDF is the main instrument for European Union aid for development in the Caribbean Forum (CARIFORUM) groups of countries, which includes the Caribbean Community and the Dominican Republic.
The11th EDF is the last instalment of funding before the Cotonou Partnership Agreement (CPA) with the EU expires at year-end.
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