Several deficiencies highlighted in commendable Food Safety Bill

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Two major questions asked by the Opposition Parliamentarians, including Vickram Bharrat, during the debate on the Food Safety Bill 2016, included: What will be the impact on food prices? And what will not be the mandate of the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD)?

Government Parliamentarian, Raphael Trotman, stressed that the Bill looks to prevent the spread of food borne diseases through the control of the production, preparation, handling, storage and the transportation of food and provide for connected matters. “There is a standard,” he said, addressing what the Bill will do.

Opposition Parliamentarian Vickram Bharrat
Opposition Parliamentarian Vickram Bharrat

He noted that the Bill will bring Guyana into conformity with what other territories are doing. He insisted that the “sky will not fall down” with the passage of the Bill.

On the issue of what will happen with the GA-FDD, Trotman added that the Bill will consolidate the functions of agencies like the GA-FDD. “It is the first step…it is not the only step,” he said.

The establishment of Food Safety Authority and other matters related to food safety are addressed in the Food Safety Bill 2016. Relative to the Authority, the Bill stated that it will: give guidance to food businesses: have the power to implement standards; and address the establishment of National Food Safety Committee. It will also have the power to: seize food; issue notification of unsafe food; and conduct analysis and examinations.

Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman
Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman

The Bill also speaks to: Requirement for registration; Licensing of food business; Power to charge fees and suspend and revoke licence; Return of license; Permit to engage in street food vending: Requirement for health certificate; Application for permit; Granting or refusing of permits; and Cancellation of permits.

Provisions for permits for food handlers and obligations of operators of food-handling establishments are also included in the Bill. The Bill addresses the liability of food inspector, who will not liable when acting in good faith, according to specific provisions.

A provision for a “general offence and penalty” is provided for in the Bill, which means that for any general offence there will be a penalty. The penalty stipulated by the Bill is a fine of $20,000 and imprisonment of six months.

Meanwhile, Opposition Parliamentarian, Dr Frank Anthony, noting Trotman’s arguments, charged that while there are commendable provisions in the Bill, there are also deficiencies. As such he called for greater consultation and review of the Bill.

Anthony rubbished Trotman’s arguments on the consolidation of functions, relative to the fact that Food Safety is being taken from the GA-FDD. He stated that the Bill no explicit explanation is given to the government’s arguments about consolidation and one cannot see, by looking at the Food Safety Bill, what is being consolidated.

“There is no connection between the Pesticides and Toxic Chemicals Control Board (PTCCB) and this new Authority (the Food Safety Authority being created with the Bill….you still have fragmentation (and advance consolidation of functions)… .the principle reason advanced, to end fragmentation, has not been accomplished by the Bill,” he said, proffering an example.

On the issue of being in conformity with what other territories, Anthony charged that Guyana has a “cook-up” sort of arrangement with “bits and pieces” from various documents.

He noted too that the label Food Safety Authority narrows the role of the Authority, dealing only with food safety, whereas a more comprehensive approach that deals with ‘Food Administration’ would have food safety as a component of a truly multipronged approach to improved standards in food administration.1We are only creating another level of bureaucracy, “he said.

Anthony stressed that there are several issues that need to be addressed and fixed, many of them that deal with technical issues.

The Opposition Parliamentarian also questioned what process will be used to determine the fees for a number of permits and other requirements, as detailed in the Bill.

“On the face of it, when you look at the Bill, the opening, to prevent the spread of food borne diseases through the control of the production, preparation, handling, storage and the transportation of food and provide for connected matters, one would support it…but there are gaps in the Bill when you look carefully,” Anthony said.

The political Opposition had called for the Bill to be sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee. Minister Noel Holder, considering the arguments by the political Opposition, agreed. The Bill was sent to a Parliamentary Special Select Committee.

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