By Marion Ali
Round two of the rice war between businessman Jack Charles (Jitendra Chawla) and the Ministry of Agriculture took a different form on Wednesday afternoon when Charles issued a press release, charging that locally-produced rice was, in essence, unsafe for consumption.
The release succeeded a letter, which Charles said he sent on February 1 to the Ministry, the Public Health Department, and the Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA), questioning the wholesomeness of rice produced in Belize and alleging that the grain contained the potentially harmful chemical, Aflatoxin, which is a mold that forms on wet rice.
In the release, Charles said based on the new standard for rice, which the Belize Bureau of Standards (BBS) gazetted last October and which states that the rice should be free of contaminants. Charles told the Reporter that this is “contrary to the law passed” and hence, his release states he “took the responsibility to test the locally produced rice to see whether they met the requirements of the new standard. The results then drew our attention that it was outside the limits set by the standard especially those related to biological contaminants which are harmful to human health.”
While Charles says he does not want to create panic, he has concerns about “the aflatoxin levels and based on that it is a cancer causing agent…The liver is the principal organ affected, but high levels of aflatoxin have also been found in the lungs, kidneys, brains and hearts of individuals dying of acute aflatoxicosis. Acute necrosis and cirrhosis of the liver is typical, along with hemorrhaging and edema,” the release explained.
Charles says he forwarded the findings of the tests conducted in the US, to the BBS, Public Health, BAHA and the Ministry on February 1, to give these agencies adequate time within which to cross verify and to take necessary measures to remove the health hazards.
In response to the claim, Director of the BBS, Jose Trejo fired back hours later on behalf of the relevant parties to whom Charles wrote. In it, the Bureau points out that Charles “is not recognized as a competent authority to conduct testing of any basic food item in Belize.
Notwithstanding this claim, the Bureau in collaboration with the competent authorities aforementioned concluded that the test results provided on February 1st, 2016, by Mr. Jack Charles shows that none of the rice samples analysed contain detectable levels of aflatoxins and as a result does not pose any threat to human health.”
Trejo continues by stating that the Bureau and the Government is committed to ensuring food safety and health in Belize and expressed regret that “the commercial interests of one individual, veiled under the guise of food safety concerns, is being used in an attempt to erode the confidence in food safety which the people of Belize now enjoy.”
Along with the press release which Charles issued, he attached the results of sample tests conducted by Eurofins Analytical Laboratories Inc. in the US, on three different grades of rice: one produced in the U.S, and two produced in Belize, including the Grade C rice that came under question. Like the BBS director pointed out, we could not find in any of the results attached anything to suggest that locally-produced rice is harmful to human health. On the contrary, the test results on the samples taken on the rice concluded in each instance that they were “acceptable”.