Local companies exporting goods to the United States are now at risk of losing business with the market as the country continues to implement more rigorous food safety measures to reduce its number of food-borne illnesses.
Latest data indicates that Jamaica currently exports 42 per cent of its goods to the US, followed by Canada for which trade is roughly 15 per cent.
Up to 2015, trade to the US was valued at US$467 million, but that number could be dramatically reduced if exporters are not compliant with the newly implemented Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) by September.
“The preventive controls for human foods are really important to us. This single rule will change the global food industry because the FSMA basically says if you want to sell foods in the US market, then you have agreed to give us the right to regulate or have oversight over what you do regardless of where you are located in the world,” Andre Gordon, managing director of food safety and quality systems company, Technological Solutions Ltd, told exporters in a discussion forum yesterday.
The forum, which was held at the Jamaica Exporters Association’s head office on Winchester Road in Kingston, sought to inform companies exporting to the United States of the new regulations, one of which requires that each firm involved in the provision of food to the US consumers has at least one Preventive Controls Qualified Individual (PCQI) specifically trained through the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved course in their organisation.
Once the regultions become effective in September, they could have significant implications for local manufacturers, distributors, pack house operators, farmers and other suppliers of foods sold in the United States.
Currently, local companies seeking to capitalise on opportunities in the US is accorded with the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification, a management system which identifies specific hazards and measures for controls to ensure food safety.
The US, however, in a bid to reduce losses of $77 billion annually from food-borne illnesses, has added four new elements to the HACCP requirements.
“These rules do not negate any of the other food safety regulations, in fact, they are specifically written to allow for them and then add to them,” Gordon reason. “Once you have this in place, you can produce today and ship today as long as you have a recall plan in place that will allow you to pull it back before it gets to market if there is a problem.”
Historically, the main focus of HACCP was to ensure effective process controls. The new rules, however, have heavy focus on economically motivated adulteration (EMA), otherwise known as food fraud, which involves the intentional substitution or addition of a substance in a product for the purpose of increasing the apparent value of the product or reducing the cost of its production for economic gain.
EMA includes dilution of products with increased quantities of an already-present substance to the extent that such dilution poses a known or possible health risk to consumers, as well as the addition or substitution of substances in order to mask dilution.
The new safety measures also require that individuals desirous of exporting to the US put in place preventive controls for process, allergens, sanitation, suppliers, among others. Chief among the requirement is the need for a PCQI, who will now assume one the most important roles in the organisation in approving the products for exportation.
“The rules are designed to focus on what matters most as far as food safety is concerned. The objective is to be preventive rather than reactive. So they prefer to exclude you rather than to let you in and try to fix it later on, and this is not just about Jamaica. It’s the same thing for companies in the US except that there are additional rules for companies that they import from,” the managing director noted.
He added that companies already accorded with the HACCP certification will give the FDA some level of confidence in their operation. Nonetheless, the authorities will still require that the companies have the additional measures in place.
“They now require that you have a food safety plan, which includes the assessment and implementation of process controls of your suppliers, controls of any potential allergens that may exist and controls of your sanitation process. In addition to that you must have a recall plan that allows you to identify and pull back anything from anywhere if any controls have failed,” Gordon said.