Columns

Tread carefully, or something may bite you

James Moss-Solomon

Sunday, March 18, 2012    

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BASED on the current news regarding rat infestation, I hope the thing that bites you or your children will not be a rat. The excuses from the Public Health Department are not acceptable.

Some time ago I wrote that they were understaffed, and did not do the required inspections as required under the law. I also explained how even private homes were inspected when I was young, and the white card pasted in a prominent place that verified the inspection date, and the supervisor's review.

Now we seem, like the dump, to be descending into a kind of lawlessness that makes excuses for doing harmful things simply because we have this hustling mentality. It pervades our society and seems harder to get rid of than rats, but we need to try. A realistic look at this is urgently required.

Restaurants and vendors, under our laws, have to be licensed and the Public Health Department has an important role to play. There are standards that must be upheld, and failure to comply must elicit a closure notice. This may seem harsh but it offers a level playing field for businesses, and protects their customers from eating potentially contaminated products. This is not an option for voluntary compliance, but a law that avoids the unnecessary expenditures associated with an epidemic.

The country does not have sufficient abattoirs of modern standards to warrant the wide-scale slaughter of animals in internationally acceptable ways. The Veterinary Division does not have sufficient doctors to supervise and keep the standards required to be able to export meat products. Most veterinarians are treating household pets or racehorses. These seem to be the viable occupations for earning a decent living or repaying student loans. Something needs to be changed!

The second area is the recent revelation in the Jamaica Observer of the occurrence of heavy metals in our soils that are easily absorbed by animals grazing, or absorbed by root tubers. This is a second whammy and although this has been known for several years it is just getting public attention. This is also a dangerous situation in two main areas of health and business.

Firstly, heavy metals may affect all persons that ingest them, but the effects do not show up immediately. The body may be unable to expel the toxins and they build up in the body's tissues and organs and cause problems with kidneys, liver, heart, lungs, and even cancer. So it is not a matter to be skipped over in a nonchalant way. These elements may also affect childhood development and create learning disabilities in children as well as adults.

Secondly, it is fair to assume that within the new standards for international food trade the importing countries will not accept foods with heavy metal content. This has a potential to destroy our exports of yams, eddoes, sweet potatoes, and other ground provisions. But we already know where these metals are and can safely avoid planting vulnerable crops there.

But based on current trends, those persons affected in these areas may still try to export, while praedial larceny continues to spread. This is why the knowledge of the source of products is so important in ensuring that we can comply and save ourselves the cost and embarrassment of disqualification. It took us years to overcome the ackee ban, so let's not cut corners at this time, as it is our collective livelihood that is a stake.

The few who insist that they must defy trade regulations in the same way that has happened in the past cannot be tolerated. A few greedy ganja exporters nearly cost us the integrity of the transshipment port and caused the implementation of costly infrastructure to avoid contamination. To date, no "big fish" have been netted but at least four security divers have been killed.

Cocaine dealers have tried to duplicate canned juices, thereby endangering thousands of jobs involved in producing for export. Who has really cried out for the honest persons who have no livelihood due to these activities? We are becoming a type of piranha that feeds on ourselves in a cannibalistic ritual of poverty and death. It really sickens me.

So before we completely self-destruct, there needs to be a firm decision to implement the elements of mass compliance rather than mass destruction. If we make ourselves internationally unacceptable then we may lose more than visas. We do not occupy a space large enough to emulate Somalian pirates on the high seas and hold vessels to ransom; unfortunately we have to trade to live, and have no other option. Therefore we need to play by the rules as we know the cost of the consequences.

Fifty years of Independence must contribute to some level of maturity, but we haven't had the will to show that side yet. It will not wait for another 50 years, so let's get it out in the open right now. Government needs to, once and for all, come down on the side of integrity and the rule of law. There is no other way that will prevent us from getting bitten.

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