Ex-assemblyman urges politicians: ‘Bring measures to monitor food quality’

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Dr Roxanne Mitchell – THA

A FORMER THA assemblyman is urging politicians to bring to the Parliament for debate measures to monitor and regulate the quality of imported and locally produced food.

Gerry MacFarlane made the call on June 13 while speaking at the Fifth Joint Select Committee (JSC) meeting on Social Services and Public Administration at the Scarborough Library, Tobago.

The JSC, chaired by independent senator Dr Paul Richards, dealt specifically with the island’s public health sector as it relates to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular conditions. The other members were Senator Avinash Singh and MP Roger Munroe.

The health panel comprised Dr Roxanne Mitchell, general manager primary care, Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA); Dr Ogonna Okeke, medical chief of staff, Scarborough Hospital; and Garth Alexander, acting CEO, TRHA.

In her opening remarks, Mitchell referred to recent statistics which said that NCDs accounted for 60 per cent of the deaths in the country.

She said in Tobago, one in every eight people was treated for hypertension.

But she noted that the ratio was not a true reflection of the number of people actually living with the condition.

“It is only the number of people we treat,” she said.

Mitchell added one in every 12 people was treated for diabetes.

MacFarlane, a businessman, believes the number of people dying from NCDs far exceeds what the statistics have revealed.

“The issue of NCDs is so serious on this island. But I am convinced to my bone that the deaths from NCDs in Tobago are much more than 60 per cent.

“Based on what I am seeing, what I am hearing and some of the results I am getting, it is much more,” he said during the open forum.

MacFarlane wondered if research was being done on the sugar content of the foods that are imported or even bought locally.

“We see things like cauliflower looking clean and smooth, bananas looking spotless. How yuh think they looking like that? You think they just water them? Is chemicals they use to make them spotless. I have seen it for myself in Puerto Rico, Dominica, St Lucia.”

He asked, “Where is the food and drug unit of this country to determine the quality of some of these things that are being imported and what we eat, in particular?

“Is that unit functioning? For years now, we hear that it is not equipped. They don’t do anything. They are not operational. Something must be done.”

MacFarlane recalled that in Mexico some years ago, the government had mandated that soft drinks and sweeteners be of a certain percentage. He said errant manufacturers were charged and fined.

“We have to get serious with our manufacturers. You are giving them the opportunity to kill us. Talk to them seriously about too sweet is not too good for the population.”

Addressing JSC chairman Richards directly, MacFarlane said, “You could move a motion to mandate that manufacturers and importers of food items have their ingredients checked or the contents of some adverse drugs monitored and regulated.”

Earlier, in her remarks, Mitchell said men made up less than 40 per cent of the people who access point-of-care services at clinics across the island, “With many defaulting once they are referred in for attention.”

But she observed that many men visited the Blue Room facility at the old Scarborough Hospital to address general men’s health concerns as well as issues relating to NCDs.

“This may be an opportunity for us moving forward in terms of getting more men to come into the system.”