Customs and Excise Department not seizing canned foods – PM
Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has described as political mischief, information in the public domain stating that the Customs and Excise Department was seizing imported canned meats and fish products from barrels.
Last weekend, social media was ablaze with questions relating to seizures of the above mentioned goods after a news item aired on local television last Friday, April 30.
In the piece, the presenter read that Dr Gonsalves had said that containers coming into the country with canned foods such as tuna, corned beef, sardine and sausages will be seized or confiscated at the port so that they can be tested under the Public Health Act.
The item also referenced Dr Gonsalves as saying on radio on Thursday April 29, that there are some requirements that persons should meet before bringing in meat products.
A clip with the PM, taken from a broadcast on NBC Radio, was included as part of the news report which had Dr Gonsalves saying: “the customs is not seizing them” in relation to fish and meat products.
Gonsalves went on to explain, “what is happening is that the veterinary division, animal health, public health- they are requesting clearly as part of the law, that you fill out the requisite forms which deal with health matters because they are interested in knowing where these items originate, where were they manufactured.
“They have to look at the expiry date, if they have any suspicion, they may have to test and very importantly, to be able to trace. If there is any consumption which creates difficulties, they will have to trace to identify so that public health, animal health can deal with the issue in a very scientific manner,” Gonsalves had told listeners on the broadcast which originated on NBC.
Dr Gonsalves had also said that although the government has agreed to offer duty free concessions, the authorities have to make sure that the elemental laws of the land relating to health and other issues are adhered to.
“I just want to make that point. It may be frustrating sometimes for someone who imports these things, but the supermarkets do that, they have to do these health checks,” Gonsalves said last Thursday.
Speaking on Sunday on WE FM’s Issue at Hand programme, the PM said that after the television broadcast, persons began calling him and asking if their canned goods including sardines and corned beef, would be confiscated when they arrive at the port in personal barrels.
“I spoke with absolute clarity,” he said of his explanation on Thursday on NBC Radio, “and I didn’t know the SVGTV news had done this.
“It is subsequently I learnt about it, so yesterday (Saturday May 1), several persons are calling me and asking me about this thing because somebody went on social media, some mischief maker obviously, politically motivated, carried the SVG TV item in some sort of voice post and then truncated what I said and cut out the ‘not’ in the ‘not confiscated’, ‘not seized’…” the Prime Minister said.
The statement by the PM about the procedure for meat and fish product imports on radio was made because someone was falsely claiming that products were seized from a container brought in by the New Democratic Party (NDP) with supplies for the country’s La Soufriere eruption humanitarian drive.
On Monday, general secretary of the NDP Tyrone James, said they in fact imported products and were told of the procedures that have to be adhered to when meat and fish products are brought in by bulk.
He however stressed that the items, some 18 cases, were only held for a day, and they had no real issues, as the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) made sure the goods were handed over to them.
“It was a very short lived situation, customs had kept back some the canned stuff…well I spoke to NEMO and the next day I got it back,” James said, while noting that the Customs and Excise Department were not the ones that wanted to check the items, but the Ministry of Health’s plant protection and quarantine unit.
“We didn’t have to go through anything really. I just spoke to NEMO and then the thing was addressed,” James said.
He added that to him, there was never an issue and the NDP did not speak about it on any platform, “because it wasn’t anything that required any sort of thing.”
On Sunday, the PM said that when he heard about the NDP container, he called the Comptroller of Customs Selwyn DaSilva; Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Kathian Herbert-Hackshaw, and leader of the opposition Dr Godwin Friday.
The PM said Dr Hackshaw explained to him what was happening with the container and noted that she had told Bryan Alexander, the person who dealt with the container imported by the NDP, that it was an issue for her department and not customs.
The PM said he told Dr Hackshaw that he thought it would be a good idea to place veterinary officers at the port to speed up the process.
“I was trying to be helpful, and I said it on the programme,” Dr Gonsalves said, noting that apart from what he considers and error by SVG TV news, there was a mischief maker.
He stressed also that during times like these when the country is seeing an increased number of imports because of natural disaster, there is a heightened awareness by health authorities to examine imported products.
“….but there is no banning or seizing of anything,” the PM stressed while reinforcing that at this time, it is better to send money than goods because of congestion at the port.
An importer of meat explained to SEARCHLIGHT that persons importing meat and fish products in bulk must get an import permit from the Ministry of Health.
The importer said the application for the permit is supported by several documents, including a health certificate from the country where the products originate. He added that the local authorities usually physically examine the imports to make sure everything is in order.