US-imposed catfish ban …says food safety authority would have accelerated resolution Agriculture Minister, Noel Holder has pointed towards the bureaucratic movement between the Fisheries Department of his Ministry and the Government Analyst Food and Drug Department of the Public Health Ministry as one of the main challenges against compliance with the US-imposed catfish ban which was enforced to achieve standard seafood entering that country.In a recent interview with Guyana Times Holder stated that while work has been done to lift the ban, it is an international issue which has to be dealt with in a holistic manner. For now, “nothing new” has emerged from discussions and they are working towards an arrangement to adhere to the standards set out by the United States of America.“There is nothing new on it. It’s the question of coming to an arrangement with the US concerning our adherence to their rule or how we can best adhere to it. We just can’t lift the ban because it is worldwide and not just against Guyana,” said the Minister.He mentioned that if the food safety authority – which would have been created under the Food Safety Bill – was established, the process would have been faster than having two Ministries involved.“We are working with the US. If we had the food safety authority in place, it would have been way much faster but what is happening here is that you have two different Ministries involved which is the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries Department and the Ministry of Health Food and Drug Department so the bureaucratic movement between Ministries have some challenges.”Holder added, “The other is the negotiation with the US, with regards to how best we can comply with their standards. The thing is, when the US is dealing with us, we got to deal with the Ministry of Health and then the Ministry of Health got to get on with Fisheries [Department], then they got to get back on with the Ministry of Health”.The Food Safety Bill was presented to the National Assembly in 2016, providing for a food safety authority, which would spearhead all aspects of food production including preparation and transportation for exportation.Meanwhile, on the part of the Public Health Ministry, Junior Minister Karen Cummings told this publication that “progress” has been made on their end but did not elaborate on the matter.Last December, Holder was questioned by Opposition officials as to what Government has been initiating to lift the ban after some US$14.7 million was set aside for the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism as part of Guyana’s contribution to international organisations.Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira questioned whether Guyana could get help from this very organisation, to which Holder replied in the affirmative. She also inquired whether legislation was being drafted to assist Guyana with gaining compliance.According to the regulations, Guyana must be able to catch catfish and transport it to a processing plant while it is alive. This is in contradiction to what is being practised here, whereby the fish is caught, disembowelled and the carcass is iced until it reaches the shore.Holder noted that the fishing industry represents approximately US$70 to $80 million annually to Guyana, with the ban on catfish costing the country US$1.2 million.The ban by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was instituted against Guyana in 2018.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had called out the incumbent Administration for not doing enough to address the concerns of the fishing industry with the ban.Jagdeo had said that he is “of the firm view that the coalition Government is fully responsible for the plight of local fishermen, given that they were notified of the USA’s pending changes to export regulations since November 2015. The coalition Government, despite having received notice of these changes, failed to communicate effectively with the stakeholders of the fisheries sector, many of whom have invested heavily in this area”.“To make matters worse, the coalition Government received an extension until February 3, 2018, to bring Guyana into compliance with the new export regulations and failed again” the Opposition Leader had said.