ARE YOUR FRUITS and vegetables safe? Is the soil contaminated? These are not issues that the average person is primarily preoccupied with because there are established food safety standards that Jamaican consumers have come to know and expect.
This confidence is expected to strengthen following recent news that The UWI, Mona’s Pesticide Research Laboratory (PRL) has earned the ISO 17025 certification, becoming the first in the region to be awarded an accreditation certificate in the Food Testing Field.
ISO 17025 is a rigorous international accreditation that checks and verifies that the laboratory is carrying out its tests and calibrations as required. The Accreditation Evaluation Committee (AEC), which dealt with the PRL, submitted a recommendation to the Accreditation Council of the Jamaica National Agency for Accreditation (JANAAC) that the PRL be awarded the accreditation certificate to conduct tests for pesticide residue in food. JANAAC approved the recommendation, and presented the PRL with the certificate of accreditation last October. This nod of approval means that whenever the PRL provides pesticide residue analyses for fruits and vegetables these test results will be internationally acceptable.
Professor Ishenkumba Kahwa, The UWI, Mona Deputy Principal, lauded the PRL for its “groundbreaking” achievement. He said this development has allowed the institution to “once again make our stand
in contributing to the further development of our country and our region. It proves that The UWI is once again helping to steer our great nation towards economic growth and development, placing us on par with our international neighbours”.
Kahwa was speaking on February 9 at the Mona Visitors’ Lodge and Conference Centre at a function to recognise and celebrate the lab’s accomplishments.
“This accreditation has a twofold benefit to Jamaica: It will act as a catalyst to better trade relations whilst also ensuring the maintenance of a healthy and safe agricultural food industry for our society,” Kahwa said.
The Deputy Principal is right, as local exporters will now be able to present food safety certificates from an accredited laboratory. This is also good news for PRL clients such as the Pesticides Control Authority (PCA).
Michael Ramsay, Registrar, PCA, told the gathering that accreditation is important to his entity because it gives credibility to the lab results. “For example, if the PCA finds that there is an unacceptable pesticide residue in a particular sample of fresh vegetable, [then] that vegetable and eventually, maybe, that pesticide may have to be taken off the market – a court challenge is less likely if the results came from an accredited lab,” he explained.
In the past, the PCA has asked The UWI lab to test not only fruits and vegetables, but other samples such as dumplings, a family’s tank water supply and golf course soil, among other things.
“The PCA has just submitted 20 samples of bee pollen to the lab, and this bee pollen when tested will start a study to determine whether pesticides being applied to the crops around the beehives are being carried to the hives, possibly affecting the bees,” Ramsay said.
“The lab will also shortly be getting river water from us,” he continued. “We will be sampling from farming areas, and we want to determine if the pesticides being used by the farmers are contaminating the rivers.”
Meanwhile, PRL Director Professor Tara Dasgupta commended his team for their role in helping the lab achieve certification. “The PRL now occupies the same position as any other accredited international laboratory. This means that our testing certificates will be accepted, without question, by the Food and Drug Administration of any country in the world,” Dasgupta boasted.
Stephen Wedderburn, Chief Technical Director in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, agreed, remarking that the accreditation was crucial to strengthening the country’s National Quality Infrastructure (NQI) and service standards.
“We must possess internationally accredited labs, robust standards and conformity assessment involving testing, inspection and certification. Indeed, we can’t take Jamaica to the world or the world to Jamaica if we are not ready with our quality infrastructure,” Wedderburn said in his keynote address.
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