Trinidad pushing for rules on unhealthy U.S. chicken imports

Bert Wilkinson | 8/24/2018, 10:55 a.m.
One of the Caribbean Community’s most influential leaders has raised an important issue regarding the sale of years-old, frozen American ...
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One of the Caribbean Community’s most influential leaders has raised an important issue regarding the sale of years-old, frozen American chicken to his island nation and to the Caribbean Community in general, saying the region should not be treated as a dumping ground for unwanted U.S. food products.

Keith Rowley, the prime minister of Trinidad, says his administration will soon take steps to implement new regulations that are primarily aimed at preventing American and other exporters from easily dumping astonishingly aged chicken meat on the Trinidadian market.

He spoke as debate continues to rage in the region about cheaper, old and possibly unhealthy chicken imports being allowed to muscle out locally or regionally produced products.

In Antigua for example, one lawmaker recently said that although authorities there would like to cut back, one of the island’s main importers is an influential businessman who finances various political party campaigns and must be given the leeway to make back money spent on campaign contributions. He made this statement even as he complained bitterly about the heavy hormone presence in the meats, saying that girls as young as 8 years old are developing breasts, a phenomenon he said is clearly linked to chemicals in meats.

The issue is usually a hot-bed agenda item at meetings of the Council for Trade and Development, one of the bloc’s most influential and powerful political and ministerial subcommittees, as some countries often push for reduced import allocations whereas others say local production is just not sufficient, so the status quo must continue.

Rowley says standards must be put in place regarding the importation of chicken and other foods left in blast freezers of many Western countries for years. These products reach the Caribbean years after the date of manufacture.

Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat was even more candid than Rowley, saying that local establishments serving wholesome, healthy and clean food are forced to compete with poultry imports that have long outlived their useful life.

“Chicken that is more than six months old, chicken that is as old as three years and they find themselves up against that kind of chicken in the local marketplace,” said Rambharat. “What we must do as a country is to finally implement the CARICOM standards to review import permitting systems to defend local processors and to give them an opportunity to grow and compete on a level playing field.”

He foresees legislation that would limit importation to chicken parts that are no more than 180 days old compared with years at the moment, saying a system of standards must be implanted sooner rather than later. Current legislation governing the animal and poultry sector are six decades old.

“The last amendment to that legislation was done 21 years ago,” he said. “All those new cycle sanitary measures and all the international health requirements relating to animal health and livestock in particular are difficult to implement, are difficult to police, are difficult to enforce, simply because the existing law does not provide us with the opportunity to do so.”

Poultry imports into the bloc of 15 nations is estimated at more than $1 billion annually and climbing. Experts say that these figures are skewed because imported food is required to also feed populations swollen by heavy tourists arrivals, so shortages cannot be tolerated in any way whatsoever.