March 2nd, 2009

Minister Wants Food Safety Task Force

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As a country that imports more than half of the food it eats, The Bahamas has exposed itself to the many downfalls that might come with it Ė particularly contaminated goods.

That is why Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Larry Cartwright said his department is on a mission to team up with other government agencies to establish a multi-ministry task force to respond quickly to any alerts on contaminated food items.

Mr. Cartwright said The Bahamas needs to ensure that the items it imports are safe.

"As a country which imports some 80 per cent or more of its food, The Bahamas is particularly vulnerable to shocks such as those which visited the agricultural sector over the past two years," he said. "So, our food security policy must now also address the import of food that is contaminated."

Back in January, more than 1,900 peanut products had to be recalled following a salmonella outbreak in the United States. The outbreak was blamed for eight deaths and 575 illnesses.

In June 2008, there were more than 1,200 illnesses reported in the U.S. from a salmonella contamination in tomatoes and raw jalapeno peppers. Four months before that, more than 143 million pounds of California beef were deemed unfit for human consumption. An E. coli outbreak in spinach back in September 2006 caused more than $86 million in crops to be affected, more than 200 illnesses and three deaths.

Many of these items were also removed from local food store shelves after word spread of the dangers they posed.

Cartwright said because The Bahamas relies heavily on the U.S. to stock shelves, the numbers should be taken very seriously.

"Currently, The Bahamas spends around $500 million on food imports," he said. "As we have seen over the past years, the recall of food items and their consequential removal from the shelves of food stores have been occurring with increasing regularity."

A recent Harvard University study found that 93 per cent of Americans donít even know that some foods are recalled in their country, adding that hundreds of foods are "sneakily pulled from the shelves to avoid a public uproar."

Many of these same foods, the study said, are even shipped to buyers, like The Bahamas.

The agriculture minister said this is just another reason why food security is so important to The Bahamas. He said not only would the country be in a better position to fend off the food crisis, but Bahamians could also avoid being susceptible to the many illnesses that could occur as a result of tainted foods being imported.



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