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More scrutiny for T&T’s food imports

Published: 
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Jolene Neaves, left, teacher, Sacred Heart Girls’ RC School; Derek Winford, CEO, Massy Stores; Avinash Singh, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries; and Ruby Warner, World Food Day member, Division of Agriculture, Marine Affairs, Marketing and the Environment, Tobago House of Assembly, during the Pass the Plant presentation which forms part of the Massy Stores Run for Food 2016.

A committee has been appointed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries to monitor the foods being imported in T&T. Avinash Singh, Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, said the aim to reduce the high food import bill and encourage farmers to produce more.

“In the past the ministry did not have anyone to indicate what is being imported and what we could substitute from local production, in order to understand the whole scenario of what in the $5 billion (import bill) we could produce locally. 

“The data coming from the import/export market and Customs and Excise suggests that we must have a committee in place to monitor and track what is being imported and to also go further. It is also to monitor some of these items coming into the country that are branded and worded illegally,” Singh told the T&T Guardian.

Speaking following the launch of Massy Stores’ Run for Food initiative in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Singh said the local poultry industry and other sectors been adversely affected by imported products. 

“Certain importers who have been bringing in pork for processing have been placing that pork on the market as fresh pork and the consumers are not aware of what is taking place. The monitoring team will be able to advise the minister and the ministry,” he said.

Singh said the monitoring committee includes representative from Customs and Excise, the Ministries of Trade and Agriculture, the Board of Inland Revenue and other stakeholders.

He also revealed that Government will be going to Parliament with legislation to introduce standards in the poultry sector. This is in response to concerns raised by local poultry producers about practices that might be compromising food safety. He said in some countries there are laws which stipulate  a shelf life of 180 days for poultry after which it must be dumped.

“After that 180 days that commodity has to be dumped and where does it go? Some end up right here in T&T. If you look at the aquaculture sector where fish is imported, as a consumer do you really know when that fish was harvested? Could really say whether it is tilapia that you are buying?” he asked.

In his official address at the launch, Singh underscored the importance of boosting local food production: “The mere fact that our increasing dependency on foreign products continue to push our local food bill to the vicinity of some $5 billion makes the conversation surrounding food security, one of national importanc,e particularly since simple concepts such as home gardening and buying local can increase the disposable incomes of low to middle-income families in the immediate short-term. This income can be saved or invested and thus lend itself to future economic growth and sustainability amongst everyday citizens.” 

The inaugural Run For Food, which takes place on April 2, is a fun run hosted by Massy Stores and the World Food Day National Committee (T&T) to bring awareness to the importance of sustainable local food production.

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