Arrowroot rhizome. (Internet photo)

The Ministry of Agriculture is working with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to try to find out how a shipment of arrowroot starch from St. Vincent became contaminated with the salmonella — bacteria that cause food poisoning.

Some 26,000 pounds of arrowroot starch, almost two-thirds of this year’s production (40,000 pounds) is at risk of being rejected by the US food safety agency, even as the purchaser had already paid US$133,000, half of the value of the shipment.

University of the West Indies tests for salmonella on the starch that remains in St. Vincent, were negative, Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar told I-Witness News on Thursday.

“It is something we are taking seriously,” he said. “We have already provided the evidence that we got from the University of the West Indies that our starch here was not contaminated.”

He said he purchaser received several of the bag of starch damaged.

“And it is our belief that in the transportation by way of the container, that the watermarks that he said were found on the bags upon receiving them, that during the process of moving it from either Port Kingstown to where he is, … the starch may have become contaminated,” Caesar said.

The Ministry of Agriculture is preparing to send a delegation to the United States next week to address the issue, and the Minister said the FDA is being invited to visit St. Vincent.

“They will see different facilities and they will visit the factory and they will be presented with the starch that remains from the shipment,” he said.

Caesar said he might be part of the delegation that visits the United States.

“The test is already done, in terms of where along the chain of transportation the starch got contaminated, and we are hoping for the best right now,” he said.

The development comes as the price for Vincentian arrowroot starch has risen to US$7 per pound.

Demand for the product is so high, that even with constant increase in production annually, it will take up to five years to meet current demand, Caesar told I-Witness News.

“I just want the arrowroot farmers to be assured that we are doing our best to get past this hurdle,” Caesar said.

“We just have to try to get past this hurdle, and, in the future, when the starch leaves St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we have to have a way of tracing every step.

“For example, you could have had that container of starch beneath a container of something else and something may have contaminated it on the boat, and, on arrival, when it was tested by the FDA that you have that issue arising,” he said.

I-Witness News had heard for several weeks that the arrowroot shipment was at risk of being rejected.

Caesar said the purchaser, who is still in discussions with the FDA, contacted him on Wednesday, saying that the FDA had requested a second sample.

“Our Standards Bureau here is working on it; Kemston Cato, a food technician who works with WINFRESH is also working on it, and a visit to Miami may be soon coming, probably in the next week or so, and I might be part of the delegation with persons from Standards Bureau,” Caesar said.

He said that Cato had advised him that the FDA will test different samples.

“They may test five samples, and if they find in three or two of those samples, that some were negative and some were positive, then they will have to make a judgement call as to the entire consignment.

“We spoke to the purchaser because he has sent half the money already, and the other half is outstanding. The Company would have done its work, the Association would have done it work over the years to ensure that we export the best standard of starch,” Caesar said.

7 replies on “Vincentian arrowroot starch at risk of being dumped in the US”

  1. Urlan Alexander says:

    Good move Saboto! That is what is required; a high level delegation to visit the US. I have never heard of Salmonella on Vincentia soil so It has to be in the US that the contamination took place. That’s what is necessary when there s a problem you took all the necessary steps to visit the concern people and let them come and see your facilities as well. That is why Vincies in Toronto are at a lost as to why there is not a high power delegation headed by the PM to visit Canada and explain to them that we are good people and we have no suspicious travel documents. By the way I didn’t hear much when the first shipment of arrowroot starch was rejected and it cost us over $5000.00US to have them dumped. Maybe that wasn’t important then.

  2. Peter Binose says:

    Isn’t it amazing how everything they touch carries some kind of curse?

    Mango’s to the US

    Cocoa, tricked by their ex NDP allie

    Bananas

    Fish shipments to US

    Frozen vegetables to the US, substandard crap compared to US produce

    Tourism

    Yacht chartering, Sunsail pull out

    Airport, still the compaction is unaceptable, but will now be ignored

    Is it just incompetence or is it a curse?

  3. I wonder if it’s possible to use strong plastic bags to ship the arrowroot from SVG. Or ensure the entire shipment is sealed in plastic.

  4. The key issue here is not the unfortunate contamination of a single starch shipment.

    Rather, it is our inability to rapidly increase supplies when prices and demand are high.

    We have been here before several times with arrowroot production. When prices go up high enough to make large-scale production and export profitable, other more economical producers have always entered the market to quickly overtake and undercut our small- and large-scale farmers.

    Always, there is the same set of problems: the disappearance of an entrepreneurial plantocracy; a relative shortage of large swaths of flat arable land; a lack of mechanization; high comparative wages among a constantly shrinking farm-labour population; and a denigration of farming generally in our society.

    Massa day done, farming day done: export agriculture can never again be the answer to our economic woes.

  5. GLENROY BROWNE says:

    Dear Editor,
    Your front page photo showing a set of rhizomes is mistakenly labeled arrowroot rhizomes. I can certainly tell you that those rhizomes are not those of St. Vincent arrowroot (Marant arundinacea). They may be the rhizomes of ginger, turmeric or canna lily. These may be mistakenly portrayed by some not familiar with Marant arundinacea. On the substantial matter of your article, it is truly a sad day for the industry that food grade starch is reported as contaminated by salmonella. And even worse to be so described by the US FDA. Closer scrutiny of industry standard may now be demanded. The information which you report does not indicate the quality certifying agency of the industry. More so, your article did not say what role any of the SVG based agents/agencies named in your article played in quality assurance of the product. The question is can the industry introduce the required standards to quiet the noises and restrictive requirements which may now be imposed.
    Glenroy Browne

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