The work of the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is well known. Certainly, in the USA consumers readily check whether items sold for their consumption and use are FDA approved. Are consumers in Jamaica aware of the equivalent system of product approvals in Jamaica? Do our product approval and registration systems work to protect consumers from harmful products and ingredients?
Jamaica has legislation in place to ensure that consumers have access to healthy foods, cosmetics, household products, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, poisonous substances and other products for human consumption or use. These pieces of legislation seek to regulate the various sectors and protect consumers by laying down standards for the labeling of products, storage, manufacturing conditions, sanitation, mode of access by consumers, allowable ingredients, among other things.
The various pieces of legislation establish regulatory bodies with responsibility for ensuring compliance by examining samples of new products introduced to the Jamaican market, reviewing relevant scientific data, assessing same in the light of available research information and issuing registration certificates or notices.
The Ministry of Health is responsible for ensuring that foods, drugs and cosmetics meet the required standards. Prior to advertising or selling products, such as prescription or over-the-counter drugs, nutritional supplements and energy drinks, registration with the Ministry of Health is required. In practice, there are some products (determined on a case by case basis) in relation to which there is no legal requirement for registration but it is recommended that prior approval of the Ministry of Health be obtained.
The Bureau of Standards has regulatory authority to ensure that products meet the appropriate standards established by legislation. For example, the Regulations establish standards for the recall of goods, sizing of clothing, labeling of processed foods, tissue products, household chemicals, precious metals, among other things.
There are other specialized agencies responsible for ensuring that products sold to consumers in Jamaica meet minimum standards to ensure the health and safety of consumers. For instance, the Pesticides Control Authority regulates pesticides and the Pharmacy Council deals with pharmaceuticals.
Unlike in the United States of America where the FDA is the sole or primary regulator dealing with review, registration and general regulation of safety of products for consumption and use by consumers, the system of regulation in Jamaica is administered by several different agencies. In some instances, their powers overlap or significant co-operation is required. Additionally, some agencies seem to suffer from substantial lack or shortage of resources. As a result, they are not able to offer timely product reviews and registrations. They are also not able to police the market place to ensure that most products being sold to consumers are actually compliant with local laws and regulation.
With globalization, Jamaica has experienced significant increases in the importation of processed goods and raw materials used for consumer products. Additionally, the rapid pace of developments in scientific research, including genetic modification of foods and ingredients, and application to the development of consumer products should compel us to take the issue of safety regulation for consumer products very seriously. It is important that the safety regulation for consumer products be given priority in our national development plans. It is time for us to review the organizational structure (or lack thereof) for product registrations and regulation. The time has also come for the resources available for this kind of activity to be streamlined, increased and used more efficiently.
We are what we eat. It is important, therefore, that the safety of all substances ingested, inhaled and used by our people is properly monitored by persons with the highest levels of skills, training and resources.