Posted: February 10, 2016. 6:25 p.m. CST.
By Aaron Humes: Importer Jack Charles is citing tests conducted by an American laboratory to argue that the major brands of Belizean rice, Circle R and Tropic, are not safe to consume.
This is because according to a press release he issued today, the sampled brands contain low levels of aflatoxins, which are cancer causing agents known to kill large numbers of people when consumed in excess.
The samples tested by Eurofins Central Analytical Laboratories of New Orleans, Louisiana, found less than 2 micrograms per kilogram each of aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2, in each sample, compared to a sample of American-produced rice, but Charles cites the Bureau of Standards’Standards (Declaration of Compulsory Standard) Order 2015, issued in October. The Order, he said, was expressed to be ‘compulsory for farmers, millers, exporters, importers and other related personnel, thereby promoting standardization for this particular commodity’.
Rule 6.1.6 of the Order declares that rice shall be free of contaminants such as aflatoxin, which is caused by improper storage causing the growth of the fungus known as As-per-gill-us flav-us.
The results were forwarded on February 1, 2016 to the Bureau of Standards, the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) and Ministry of Agriculture to be cross-verified and steps to address the problems taken.
Charles, while pointing out that excessive consumption of these agents can result in aflatoxicosis and damage to the liver, lungs, kidneys, brain and heart, insists that he is not trying to cause a panic, nor to have Government justify this public health problem, but to keep a sincere promise to Belizeans that they can enjoy safe, wholesome, quality rice at affordable prices.
Charles did not address in his press release how the Guyanese rice he tried to bring in compares in terms of samples, or if he is trying to shame Government into acceding to his request to bring the rice in.
Contacted for comment today, CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture Jose Alpuche said that he had not seen the press release, nor could he comment at this time.
This evening, the Government hit back with a joint press release issued by the Belize Bureau of Standards, Belize Agricultural Health Authority and Ministry of Health (but not the Ministry of Agriculture, essentially dismissing Charles’ claims.
The authorities maintain that Charles is not recognized as an authority for testing any basic food items, and state that the tests presented by Charles showed that none of the samples analyzed contain detectable levels of aflatoxins and do not pose any threat to human health.
The trio of authorities also reject the suggestion that they are not committed to ensuring food safety and health in Belize – and they accuse Charles of hiding his commercial interests, referring to the attempt to import Guyanese rice into Belize, behind food safety concerns and trying to undermine the confidence of Belizeans in food safety.
Concerns had previously been expressed about the safety level of Guyanese rice, and the Bureau says it will prevent access for any goods “which are likely to be a danger to the health or safety of consumers.”
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