By Marion Ali, Staff Reporter
The sale of unlabeled, retail rice is illegal and should be something of the past, says Director of the Belize Bureau of Standards, Jose Trejo, despite reports to the contrary.
Reports are that some merchants and market vendors are still selling locally produced rice in unlabeled, plain plastic bags and at the same $1.15 in some cases, some two months after new standards have been introduced and implemented.
Trejo told the Reporter this week that after the standards for the prepackaging of rice was passed in October, rice producers were given a December 23rd, 2015 deadline to have their rice packaged, labeled and priced – a process that is managed by the Belize Marketing and Distribution Corporation (BMDC). But while that deadline has long passed, some rice producers are still reportedly circumventing the system and are selling their rice to merchants and vendors, who have ignored the new standards, for more than the 90 cents per pound, stipulated by the government for Grade C rice, which is 70 percent whole grain and 30 percent broken grain.
According to Trejo, the BBS has been monitoring shops and supermarkets to ensure that merchants and shopkeepers are abiding by the new standards, but he admitted that his staff hasn’t reached the markets yet. This is where a lot of retailing takes place and this is also where a lot of the reports of non-compliance stem from. Trejo urges consumers to call the BBS offices and report cases of local rice still being sold in unlabeled, plastic bags and at a price higher than 90 cents per pound.
For the other categories of rice, namely Grades Premium A and B, Trejo advised, the Bureau has not placed a price control and the pricing of these products are left up to the merchant or vendor to put on his product.
The monitoring process has so far covered 140 shops, supermarkets and stores countrywide, Trejo said. Of that number, 25 have been found to be non-compliant with the standards regarding pricing and proper labeling, particularly as they relate to sugar. The products were confiscated in those cases. The particulars of five of them who are repeat offenders and who have blatantly refused to follow the standards, have been forwarded to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), facing a possible fine of up to $10,000.