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New rice rules for $9b market

The Bureau of Standards Jamaica, BSJ, released new draft standards for the US$56-million ($9-billion) rice importation sector following reports of inconsistent grain and moisture content.

The national standards body will allow the public to comment on the matter over a 60-day period, ending in August.

“This standard establishes requirements for grades of paddy, cargo rice, milled rice, cargo parboiled rice and milled parboiled rice. It also specifies the general conditions for sampling and the methodologies for assessing the various factors used in the determination of the quality of rice,” said the Jamaican Standard Specification for Rice report published in June on the BSJ’s website.

The report classifies rice grain characteristics as long, spanning over 6.67 millimetres; medium, at least 6.2 mm; and short, at less than 6.2 mm.

The draft standard offers five grades of rice, namely: extra A, A, B, C, and a lower ‘sample grade’. The draft report, however, focuses on grades A to C. In all cases, the rice must not have more moisture content than 14 per cent.

The report speaks to the rice meeting safety standards for human consumption, packaging, and the authority’s testing of samples.

The draft standard is a modification of the 2013 Caricom Standard Specification for Rice, otherwise called CRS 44:2013. “This standard therefore replaces the JS CRS 44:2013,” BSJ said.

The Caricom standard, while published online, was placed behind a paywall.

Clarifications on the standards were not forthcoming from the BSJ up to press time.

The issue of the quality of rice imports became topical again last December over a shipment of the grain by Blue Zone Limited, a company led by Charles Tufton. The rice originated from Suriname in over 2,700 bags held in five containers. The shipment was delayed, but was eventually released to the market.

Tufton, who is the son of politician Christopher Tufton, previously responded that all shipments had passed the necessary health and safety checks without political favour.

“The truth behind this saga is that there is an industrywide classification and labelling issue where most, if not all, importers of broken rice are in breach,” stated Tufton in a published letter.

Tufton, in the letter, said Blue Zone represented the newest importer of rice among a market of over 150 importers.

Jamaica imported rice valued at US$56.6 million in 2022 and $52.8 million in 2021, resulting in a compounded growth of 20 per cent per annum since 2018.

Most of the rice consumed in Jamaica is purchased from Guyana, US$30.3 million; followed by Suriname, US$19.2 million; United States, US$4.8 million; and Thailand, US$2.4 million.

Imports from within Caricom are free of tariff, whereas for other markets a duty of 23.6 per cent is applied.

The modified rice standard was developed under the supervision of the National Food Standards Technical Committee, which at the time comprised 27 members from stakeholders in the BSJ and corporate entities, and was chaired by Carol Andrade of Seprod Group.

Seprod, however, is not a rice importer, said CEO Richard Pandohie.

The process for developing a standard has seven stages, with the draft being the fourth element. Initially, the BSJ needs to be aware of the need for a standard, then evaluate and propose its development, establish a technical committee, create a working draft of the standard, receive public consultation, get approval of the draft standards from the Standards Council and then the requisite minister of government. The final stage is the gazetting of the standard.

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