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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Double standards?


Dr Frances Chandler

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: Double standards?

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Why is it that we in Barbados are expected to conform to all kinds of rules and regulations where our products are concerned, but there seems to be no watchdog institution rigorously monitoring products imported into Barbados? Is it because of our mentality: “If it’s imported, it’s OK?”
Of course, we have the Barbados National Standards Institution (BNSI), whose mission is to facilitate, through standardization and its related activities, the international competitiveness of Barbadian goods and services, the protection of consumers and the harmonious development of the sectors of the economy. Then there is the CARICOM Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) whose primary objective is the establishment and harmonization of standards to enhance the efficiency and improve quality in the production of goods and services in the Community, to protect the consumer and the environment and to improve trade within the Community and with third states. The emphasis of both institutions, however, seems to be quality of local and regional goods, rather than internationally sourced ones.
On the other hand, we are all too familiar with the stringent European Union regulations for entry of dairy, meat and fish products into their countries. We are yet to meet these standards since we haven’t put the necessary legislation in place, we don’t have labs of the accepted standard, fish markets need upgrading, and so on. This has remained a problem for years.
If we export fresh vegetables, the importing country has to know which field they were grown in, which chemicals (from their approved list) were sprayed on them, how often and at what rates and so on. Of course, they must also be free of soil, but have you noticed how much soil comes into Barbados on white potatoes and sometimes on celery?
But what consistent checks do we do on imported products? As far as I’m aware, there is some testing of poultry products, and, of course, plant quarantine checks for pests and diseases, but apart from that we seem to welcome international products with open arms, few questions asked.
I seem to recall that the recent trade dispute with Trinidad regarding Barbadian milk products was based on such minor labelling issues as  “product common name not being in the same size and font” and “package did not indicate the heat process used”. Nothing to do with quality or safety issues.
Amazing when we consider the types of labelling which we accept on imported products. I understand there’s a worm medicine for dogs which gives one standard dose, making no reference to various weights of puppies versus mature dogs. Isn’t that dangerous?
There are labels which have no English on them. I’ve seen bulk packs of frozen products in clear plastic bags with no identification of the product, the source or any other information. But the label on a package of Water Crystals manufactured in China takes the cake! It states in part: Regulation (I assume this means Caution) “Make the sunlight keep shoot not; Avoid eating its mistake; the usage of the child should be serve as guardian by the parent; Appearing to lose a water a dry empress can add a water to make it once more absorb water an inflation, can absorb water to release a water again and again. Normal usage, the term can reach to for a year above.”
With our own health and safety regulations, we seem to “strain at gnats and swallow camels”. Those delivering goods to supermarkets must not wear sleeveless blouses or open-toed shoes (apparently there is a potential danger from contamination by hair and athlete’s foot respectively), but we accept floors that look as if they haven’t been scrubbed for decades; refrigerated goods which stand at ambient temperature until someone gets around to placing them on the chill counter; ice cream which is almost liquid before it reaches the freezer (just so the invoice can be carefully scrutinized).
Nursing homes must have walls of a particular colour, the laundry cannot pass through the kitchen to go to the washer, but the care of the residents seems to be under much less scrutiny.
It seems we vary our standards when convenient and we often let regulations take over from common sense – but then again, common sense isn’t so common anymore!
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator.

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