BELIZE CITY, BELIZE, Friday, 16 December 2016 (CRFM)—A two-week training covering “Food safety in the fishery sector” and “Fishery products laboratory testing” was delivered to 30 inspector and laboratory analysts from 15 CARIFORUM countries during the period 28 November to 9 December 2016, by four international experts.
The training, which covered inspection, control and testing in the fishery sector, was based on eight operational manuals developed under a project funded by the European Union (EU). The training was organized by the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM).
Food safety hazards, best international practices in fish inspection at each stage of the supply chain, controls in aquaculture, and traceability as well as modern approaches to laboratory testing and accreditation were among the key areas addressed. Particular attention was paid to explaining the sanitary requirements for exporting fishery and aquaculture products to the EU and markets in other developed countries. Practical work helped the participants to understand the role of rapid and field testing, to enable better decision-making on the safety of fishery products.
After the course, rapid testing equipment was donated to participants to use in their home countries, and modern histamine testing equipment for assessing the safety of products such as tunas, was also donated to the Fisheries Department of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Participants were drawn from Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, the Commonwealth of Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Suriname, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. Representatives from the Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA), based in Paramaribo, Suriname, also attended. The training was highly appreciated by all the participants.
“This course will allow the streamlining of our laboratory testing capabilities and has provided a better understanding of what the EU wants,” said Avis O'Reilly-Richardson, Senior Chemist from the Food Safety & Technology Laboratory, Bahamas.
“There are many areas in my country where there are no controls; e.g. imports, fishing vessels, etc. The information received as well as the discussions with other participants will help me to develop systems for these controls in the future,” another participant said.
Dr. Susan Singh-Renton, CRFM’s Deputy Executive Director and CRFM's Project Coordinator, welcomed the course saying that it “…allowed the trainees to develop a stronger understanding of the full extent of laboratory and regulatory requirements for fulfilling international sanitary standards for fish and fishery products, and allowed them also to share lessons and best practices in considering possible solutions for many of the challenges faced in putting the methods into actual practice in their home countries.”
The project under whose umbrella the training falls is titled, “Capacity Building of regulatory and industry stakeholders in Aquaculture and Fisheries Health and Food Safety to meet the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) requirements of international trade.” It was funded under the EU’s “10th EDF Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Project and delivered under the technical leadership of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, supported by a team of consultants from Megapesca in Portugal. The aim is to continue to help CARIFORUM countries to improve the safety of fish and fishery products for consumers in national and export markets.
Apart from the delivery of these training courses, the capacity building activity, which started in September 2016 and will run until January 2017, has prepared six new manuals to help fish inspectors apply the best international practices to the inspection of fishing vessels, processing establishments and aquaculture facilities. The subjects covered include Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), traceability, and for the first time, a compendium of food safety hazards encountered in Caribbean fishery products. In addition, two manuals were prepared under the project for laboratories on the testing of fishery products to ensure food safety and the accuracy of laboratory test results.
The fishery sector is important for many countries in the region, as a source of employment and export revenues. Overall, in 2015, the CARIFORUM countries exported fishery products worth US$378 million to many countries around the world. Whilst 89% of this was from just five countries (Bahamas, Belize, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago), the fishery sector of many other countries in the region delivers supplies directly to their tourist sector. The continued economic importance of the fishery revenue, therefore, depends on ensuring that products meet international sanitary standards. Governments in the region are, therefore, very interested in ensuring that regionally important food safety hazards, such a ciguatera and histamine, are under control.
The EU project “10th EDF Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures Project” has the expected result that capacities will be strengthened at the national and regional levels for health and food safety requirements of fisheries and aquaculture (inland, marine) products, which will also ensure safe food standards for fisheries products in the region, while meeting the requirements of the region's trading partners worldwide.
Rainforest Seafoods is a leading Caribbean producer and exporter based in Jamaica, with operations in Belize. It exports safe seafood to the EU. (Photo: Rainforest Seafoods)
Belize City, Friday, 27 May 2016 (CRFM)—Caribbean economies are poised to benefit from a region-wide initiative to expand seafood market share, through the implementation of food safety measures to enable countries to get a bigger piece of the global pie, worth an estimated US$130 billion annually. Caribbean countries, including the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, are now capitalizing on a coordinated approach to broaden the gateway to the growing market. CARIFORUM (CARICOM and the Dominican Republic) now exports about US$400 million worth of fish and seafood annually.
Belize and Jamaica are two Caribbean seafood exporters already tapping into markets controlled by the European Union (EU)—a tough market to access because of stringent standards which require that countries have systems in place to ensure that their exports are not only safe for consumption but also free from harmful pests and pathogens.
In the case of Belize, which has traditionally exported shrimp to the EU, it is moving to export conch to that market for the first time in 2016, according to Endhir Sosa, Senior Food Safety Inspector, Belize.
Sosa was among the eighteen professionals from CARIFORUM who recently received management training on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) in Iceland. The training was offered under the capacity-building component of an EU-sponsored project to implement SPS Measures under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF) regime. The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) are collaborating to implement the fisheries component of the project.
Sosa broke down the meaning of this very technical term, which could just as well be the acronym for ‘safe and profitable seafood’: “In a nutshell, it’s just a series of procedures, of guidelines, of requirements, that one needs to implement to basically prove that what they are producing is safe,” the food safety expert commented.
“Confidence is what is key! It is what everybody seeks when it comes to the purchase and consumption of food products,” he said, adding that, “SPS is one of those routes where you can establish that confidence in your product.”
BAHA monitors seafood processed for trade (Photo: BAHA)
Sosa notes that, “Once you have an established SPS system in place and it is vetted and it’s shown to be functional, that will open markets locally, regionally and internationally."
This has been the case for Belize: “When BAHA [the Belize Agricultural Health Authority] first started in 2000, you could count the number of countries we were exporting to on your hand. It wasn’t more than 5 to 7. Today, thanks to SPS, thanks to the confidence that our SPS program has put into our products, not only fish, the markets have increased almost three-fold. Now we have a little over 30 markets,” Sosa said.
Chairman of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, Denzil Roberts, who is also the Chief Fisheries Officer in Guyana, notes that: “The fisheries sector within the CARIFORUM region continues to play an important role in rural development, food and nutrition security, income generation and foreign exchange earnings. However, it must be recognized that there is a paucity of skilled personnel within the region to further develop the sector in keeping with the emerging challenges.”
The intensive two-week training course recently held in Iceland served to help fill this knowledge gap in the Caribbean.
Susan Singh-Renton, the CRFM’s Deputy Executive Director, notes that, “The CRFM/UNU-FTP SPS Management Course has been very successful in achieving its objective of exposing CARIFORUM Fisheries and Agricultural Health and Food Safety experts to the key lessons and best practices of the Icelandic fishing industry in producing safe and wholesome fishery products of an international standard.”
Thor Asgeirsson, Deputy Programme Director at UNU-FTP, talks with CARIFORUM SPS professionals in wrap-up session (Photo: CRFM)
She added that, “At the close of the course, participants reflected on and also documented how they would apply what they had learned to improve fisheries SPS management in their home countries.”
Jeannette Mateo, Director of Fisheries Resources at the Dominican Council for Fisheries and Aquaculture (CODOPESCA) in the Dominican Republic, suggested that nationals in her country, such as biologists, inspectors, fisheries officers and consumer protection agents, should be trained in basic concepts of SPS.
For his part, Roberts hopes that the trainees will immediately begin to impart what they have learned to others in their national networks. Roberts furthermore hopes that trainees will implement internationally recognized safety standards for seafood, thereby safeguarding the health of the local population while ensuring market access to meet global market demands.
Singh-Renton said that the CRFM will also strive to do its part to provide follow-up regional support for improved SPS management for the region's fishing industries, including facilitating continued networking among the course participants.
One of the more frequent but often overlooked problems within the Caribbean is food fraud and mislabeling,” notes Dr. Wintorph Marsden, Senior Veterinary Officer in Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.
Marsden said that Jamaica is considered a major transshipment hub for fish and fishery products to the wider Caribbean region, and so the burden is on Jamaica, as a first point of entry, to implement a system of verification of products entering its food chain.
To combat food fraud, it is an absolute necessity to introduce traceability, said Marsden. This can now be done electronically, with modern systems of recording, such as the use barcodes, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and other tracking media within the production chain.
In the Dominican Republic, Mateo’s job is to review all the supporting documentation for seafood imports and exports. She has observed, though, that, “Some of these documents might have statements to make the consumers believe that they are getting a high-quality product while they are actually getting products with less quality and deliberate mislabeling.”
An example, she said, is fish from the genus Pangasius, a catfish primarily sourced from the Asian market, which is being sold cheaply in the region and marketed at times as “grouper”—not only at supermarkets but also at some restaurants.
Vietnam catfish often passed off as grouper in the Caribbean (Photo: VASEP)
“While in Iceland, I learned that deliberate mislabeling of food, the substitution of products with cheaper alternatives, and false statements about the origin of foods, are all food fraud,” Mateo said.
“This is relevant to the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean, where imported fish are in some cases marketed at lower prices than the local ones, not only due to the lower production cost of fish products such as tilapia and Pangasius (catfish – sold as ‘basa’ or ‘swai’) in comparison with those produced in the country, but also because of unfair practices in trade,” Mateo said.
She said that as a result of the Iceland training, the Dominican Republic is now in the final stage of building an improved national SPS system for fishery and aquaculture products which was initiated with the support of the government of Chile.
Buyers opt for local snapper or imported seafood from the same freezer at a Belize supermarket (Photo: CRFM)
Whereas the move to implement SPS measures was originally focused on export trade, regional experts also indicate that they are vital to food safety and health even within our region.
“The Caribbean is known to be a huge importer of food products,” Sosa noted. “We have to look after our population, we have to look after the health of our people, we have to look after the health of our environment and our agricultural products; and thus SPS—although at this point it is mostly the industrialized countries that are pushing it, that are requiring it—should be really and truly across the board.”
Science-based risk assessment and risk analysis of imports are also key in protecting vital agriculture and fisheries industries.
“We have been mandated with the task of being the gatekeepers when it comes to food safety and agricultural health and we take that responsibility very seriously. Sometimes the public will get angry with us, because they truly don’t understand why we are doing this. ‘Why can’t I bring this across the border?’ But the realization is that if a disease [is introduced], it could potentially destroy an entire industry—whether it be, for example, bringing across poultry with avian influenza, or bringing in diseased shrimp—it could wipe out an entire multi-million-dollar industry,” Sosa warned.
Southern Fishermen's Cooperative in Grenada adds value to fish to produce smoked bacon for export to regional and international markets (Photo: CRFM)
Sosa noted that SPS measures were initially geared towards industrial markets but now they are encouraging small producers to position themselves for export by implementing SPS Measures.
“They might not have the finance to construct an elaborate facility, but we can start with the basics,” said Sosa, pointing to “good manufacturing practices and the sanitation standard operating procedures,” which, he said, would build confidence in products from even small producers.
More importantly, he said, implementing SPS measures is the first step that producers will need to make to even think about trading on the world market.
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