Public Health Ministry to crack down on unlabelled food items

Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton announced on Friday that items in supermarkets across the nation

Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton
Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton

that do not bear labels will no longer be tolerated to be distributed to consumers.

The customary act of shop owners, especially small businesses retailing large quantity of goods into small packages without bearing a label or an unidentifiable label, will no longer be accepted by the Public Health Ministry.

Norton disclosed that all retailing of food items will have to be approved by the Food and Drug Department (FDD) of the Ministry before it can be packed unto shelves.

Norton recalled, “You used to go in a supermarket and buy peas in a bag with no writing on it, buy rice in a bag with no writing on it or anything on a bag with no writing on it”. He emphasised that this will no longer be acceptable, since the law would be enforced upon offenders.

Norton reiterated, “The law says you must state what is in the packages and the necessaries”. He is also urging small shops to have their licences in order, since they will not be allowed to operate without one. He articulated that unlicenced businesses are the ones that usually provide unhygienic items to the public because they don’t adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures.

Meanwhile, Minister Norton added that milk being sold loosely in unlabelled packages is unfortunate and will soon come to a halt. “We are going to insist that all who are importing milk and retailing it, comply with the regulations. Conditions must be certified by FDD, meaning they need infrastructure to be in place, the machine that actual does the packaging, they ought to have that in place and apart from that, they must also label it,” the Minister said.

Norton further noted that “all of our local stuff have labels from coconut water to crab oil, so everything we sell, we must put a label on it”. Minister Norton stressed that this is what the law requires.

In 2015, The Government Analyst-Food and Drug Department (GA-FDD) had advised consumers against purchasing powdered milk in unlabelled and transparent bags.

According to the FDD, “The sale of milk powder in this manner is in breach of the Food and Drug Act 1971 and the Food and Drug Regulation 1977 and any person who sells Powdered Milk in unlabelled, transparent plastic bags are guilty of an Offence”.

The press statement warned retailers to discontinue the practice of repackaging milk without being in possession of a permit to repackage.

Just recently, the GA-FDD in clamping down on substandard goods in the local market, recalled the infant milk formula known as LAILAC which was being imported and distributed by the International Pharmaceutical Agency (IPA) Guyana Ltd.

The recall by the GA-FDD was issued on two grounds; one of which was the product’s noncompliance with Food and Drug Regulation (12) of 1977, which prohibits distributing a product in Guyana that is not distributed in its country of origin.

GA-FDD Director Marlon Cole was quoted in other sections of the media as saying that LAILAC was not and could not possibly be sold in France as milk.

“Our regulations clearly state that the product must be freely distributed in the country of production. That product is not sold in France. No other Caribbean country has LAILAC milk. It is not milk,” he was quoted as saying.

The other reason for this recall was based on concluding after reading the product’s label which showed that the product is labelled infant milk although in the production process, non-specified ‘vegetable oils’ were used to replace milk fats.

According to the GA-FDD, in making the product as close as possible to “mother’s milk”, unless specific vegetable oils were added to the cow milk-based substance, when digested by infants, the formula can prove to be dangerous since the fatty acids in the triglycerides produced influence their functions negatively.

It was reported that even though LAILAC was recalled months ago, the products are still being sold and stocked on shelves of supermarkets.

The Public Health Minister had said “It could be that the company brought in the milk some time ago, probably sold it to supermarkets and the supermarkets continue to display it so that they don’t make a loss. What I know that can be done is the Food and Drug Department can literally go and seize these products. I don’t know why they’re not doing it.”

He also noted that if it was ascertained that the IPA is refusing the mandate of the GA-FDD, then it will become a legal issue where the Police will get involved.

“If the law so says and the product does not abide by the regulations then the Food and Drug Department has a right to pull the product from the market.

If they (distributors) continue to defy the order, then it’s a legal matter and when it comes to a legal case, it goes to the Police and a decision will have to be made,” the Public Health Minister had said.