The Food Safety Bill, which was read for the second time yesterday in the National Assembly, was referred to a Special Select Committee.
It is the hope of the Members of the House that the Parliamentary Committee would be able to
put the finishing touches to a Bill that provides a strong foundation as it relates to preventing the spread of food borne diseases through the control of the production, preparation, handling, storage and the transportation of food among other related matters.
Speaking on the importance of the Bill was Minister of Agriculture, Noel Holder.
The Parliamentarian said that as Guyana moves towards a more modernized agricultural sector, with an effective and more sustainable system for ensuring food security, a Food Safety Bill is imperative.
Holder said there is no question that there is need for a massive overhaul of Guyana’s food laws. He stressed too, that Guyana, now more than ever, needs to improve its food safety practices so as to be able to tap into a number of foreign markets.
To amplify the need for the Bill, Holder examined just three aspects of food safety.
He said, “Firstly, there is safety from the increasing risk of food borne diseases and its implications on the cost of health care. Secondly, with economic growth, there is the increase in consumer demand for quality consumerables, specifically, safe food. And finally, there is the question of who is in responsible for food security; is it the consumer, the producer or the government? “
With respect to the accountability for food safety, Holder said that the responsibility is shared by everyone involved in the sector. As for the Government, he said that the administration is responsible for providing an effective regulatory environment for food safety.
With this Bill, he asserted that the Government will be one step closer to streamlining food safety.
He said, too, that in today’s world, consumers ask a lot of questions regarding the manner in which their produce was obtained. He said that consumers want to know that their food came from an animal safe and environmentally friendly place.
Holder further noted that there are limits to what the Government can do. As such, he asserted that producers remain primarily responsible for the safety of their products. He commented that the sector itself will have to develop a supervisory system.
Under the Act, the Agriculture Minister disclosed that a Food Safety Authority will be established. By doing so, the Parliamentarian said that Guyana will follow in the footsteps of the Canadians who have a food inspection agency so as to maintain consumer confidence.
He said that this authority will fall under the Ministry of Agriculture. Holder told the House that the authority will provide for the consolidation of a number of inspectorates such as the Guyana Livestock Development Board and the Food and Drugs Department.
He said that the Food Safety Authority will follow a meticulously coordinated approach for ensuring food security practices. In this regard, the Agriculture Minister said that the surveillance and inspection of food and food related diseases in Guyana will be priority for the Authority.
The politician said that the Authority will also prescribe for Guyana, a number of stipulations, solutions and practices that are in keeping with international best practices.
The Minister of Agriculture also noted that there will be immediate effects to having the Bill passed.
In this regard, he said that strategic advances will be taken in the area of risk assessment, identifying food related hazards, characterizing them into groups and assessing the mobility of diseases as well as identifying the health risks that are attached to producing and marketing certain foods.
The Minister then commended the Bill for passage in the House.
Even though the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was responsible for most of the initial works done on the Food Safety Bill, it was still not convinced that the Bill was ready to be passed.
Instead, Members of the Opposition cited several concerns with the Bill.
One member from the western side of the House, Dr Bheri Ramsaran, took issue with the fact that the Bill seeks to give “severe powers” of enforcement to the posts of the food analysts and inspectors.
Ramsaran said that those officers will have powers of detention and intervention into the food processing and distribution process, including the powers of seizure for certain periods.
He argued that such powers, without the necessary checks and balances, will pose some discomfort.
Without such mechanisms to prevent the abuse of power, Ramsaran believes that it would only “undermine the beauty of a Bill.”
He said, “We can have a better Bill. It is an enormous document. Let us take this good bill to a Special Select Committee so that it can be made into a near perfect Bill.”
Ramsaran was supported by his other colleagues who were, to some extent, successful in pointing out other undeniable flaws in the Bill.
Among the many criticisms he proffered, Opposition Member, Dharamkumar Seeraj highlighted the fact that the Bill neglects to place enough emphasis on protecting the nation’s borders from products which are not fit for consumption, but have been making their way into local markets.
He argued that the Bill should give more focus on strengthening supervision of the nation’s ports of entry to prevent the infiltration of such products. He joined with his colleague in requesting that the Bill be sent to a select committee for further work.
The Agriculture Minister, who had the final word during the session, subsequently agreed with the Opposition and referred the Bill to a Special Select Committee.
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