I am not sure about the issue in other countries of the Caribbean, but there is one in Trinidad that I tried to bring to the attention of the Standards Bureau. I called and sent messages on Facebook but for months got no response and, finally, they told me that I should take the issue to the chemistry, food and drugs division of the ministry of health. I called the department and immediately got a response. Then I wrote to the head of the division Farz Khan and copied my email to the minister of health (MoH) Terrence Deyalsingh.
Basically, the problem is that in any supermarket in Trinidad chicken breast with the bone and skin still on it is sold with large sections of the back and neck still attached. This way the companies that sell the product to the supermarkets get paid for “bone-in chicken breast” although what they are including in the package is a large, heavy piece of a much cheaper part of the chicken (back and neck).
In my letter, I added, “Many of the people I spoke to, including some of my colleagues in the local and regional media, are convinced that either the people in your division are being paid to turn a blind eye to the issue and allowing it to happen, or they just sit in the office, when they condescend to work, and let these things happen. Either way, it poses a problem.
“My concern is that the situation is remedied. I don’t want to write about it except as a positive dealt with by the ministry and your department. I have absolutely no political axe to grind. If you look at my articles you will see they try to be fair to both political sides in Trinidad and Tobago (TNT). However, it is possible this is happening in some of the other countries I write for but having lived in Barbados, Belize and Antigua, I have no evidence that it is. However, I have evidence that because of the lack of action by your office, it is widespread in TNT. I don’t want to pillory you or bring your name, reputation and career into disrepute but in these times, the scam has been allowed to go on too long and it costs retired people like me a lot of money. You might say, as some cynics do.”
So why you eh eat some other part of the chicken? Or become a vegetarian?” If anyone from your office, ministry or government, a grocery owner or a chicken company says that to me will immediately make sure that my readers throughout the Caribbean and diaspora know about it.
I am not threatening you or your ministry. It is just that I want you to, as we say, “do your wuck”.
“This has been happening to me for at least two years now and I was finally told by the Standards Bureau it was your problem and not theirs.”
I never got an email response from the minister and did not expect one but I got a commitment from Khan by email the next day. He made it clear to me, “Your concerns dated November 16, 2020, have been received and noted by the division. I have already communicated with my counterparts from the Veterinary Public Health Department – MoH. We are in the process of putting a team of inspectors to conduct an investigation on the matter that you have reported on. There are three major chicken processing establishments hence our investigation will include those as well as supermarkets.
“If possible can you share the Brand and location where you purchased the product.
“I will keep you updated on the findings and corrective actions taken based on the investigation. I have also included the Senior Food and Drugs Inspector who has responsibility for the Food and Drugs Inspectorate – Mrs. Stella Harrygin in the email to provide additional support.”
Khan kept in touch with me and reported on Monday this week (November 30) that his division conducted some inspection and received feedback from two of the major processors of chicken. Awaiting feedback from the third processor.
He explained, “From the initial feedback and observation it will require additional labelling information to be placed on the packaging to adequately inform the consumer of the nature of the product. Also, no part of the neck should be included in the breast ( Side Breast/ centre breast). Correspondence will also be sent to the Consumer Affairs Division (CAC) – ministry of trade to get their input and recommendations on the issue. I must point out that if the chicken breast is being sold unpackaged/ unlabeled and placed in the display freezer/ chiller then CFDD will have limited jurisdiction hence the role of CAC.”
I must say that I was impressed and quite pleased that the ministry not only responded initially but kept in touch and provided me with some sense of the problem from their perspective and what they were doing to deal with it fairly and with the interest of consumers at heart, especially people of my age.
While I will continue to be critical of governments and any other organisation which does not deal fairly with us, I must thank Khan, the minister and ministry for investigating and seeking to deal with the problem.