Standards, guns and camps . . .

Over the last few days, two news items have surfaced, bringing into question various food items used widely in Barbados. In one instance, the offending items were imported chicken wings. In the other, a distribution company was accused of changing labels on expired items.    

The silence surrounding these two issues is deafening and surprising. If the head of the Barbados Agricultural Society, James Paul, has stated he knew nothing about the importation of chicken wings, and the Minister responsible for Commerce and Trade has not come to clear the air, are we to assume this shipment of wings made its way into Barbados without the proper regulatory standards being met?

That makes me wonder what the standards are in the first place, and who is overseeing the regulations.

Most individuals who have ever done any level of community work know that in order to handle food, a health certificate is required. This is true of even little fish fries at schools. Sometimes, to get the health certificate takes an inordinate amount of time –– if the polyclinic is busy, or if there is a shortage of doctors on the given day.

In my usual exasperation, I ask the question: how could we regulate the persons selling food so strenuously and seem not to have equally rigorous measures to regulate the food itself which people buy to prepare and sell?

At this time of year, vendors prepare chicken wings, chips, turkey wings and other small meals to sell for the purposes of making additional income, or of raising funds for graduations and school-related activities. Chicken wings, at this time of year, would also be a welcome supplement to housewives’ stocks as they prepare for the vacation days when children are ever hungry.

Having made the point about how far-reaching imported chicken wings can be across Barbadian communities, how did an entire seemingly phantom shipment of them become available to consumers? And why has there not yet been a public closure of the distributor alleged to be changing sell-by and best-before dates on items for public consumption?

There seems to be a very lax set of regulations governing food inputs into Barbados.  These two glaring cases aside, I believe there should be clearer guidelines on chicken generally in Barbados. Some supermarkets and other outlets purchase bulk chicken from both local and imported sources. Where chicken is imported or local, the designation should be recorded on the packaging accordingly, so consumers who only wish to purchase local chicken can make informed choices.

Additionally, the labelling on pre-prepared food in Barbados leaves much to be desired.  In four and five-star hotels across Barbados, buffets are offered to consumers without any kind of labelling. Soup is prepared and there is no label to indicate whether the soup is meat or vegetarian. Muffins are displayed and there is nothing to indicate whether there are nuts or nut particles, so individuals
with allergies are forewarned.

We are a society very, very good at talking; a chasm exists between talking and doing.

We certainly are doing a lot of talking while “gunmen” in Barbados are doing lots of shooting. There is, to my mind, a half-hearted discussion about the origin of guns finding their way into Barbados. If I know how guns are getting into Barbados, just from listening to conversations on the street, I would put my neck on the line that the Royal Barbados Police Force (RBPF) also knows.

The retail price of an illegal firearm is between $3,000 and $5,000. At that price, are we only to be looking for the sources of guns on “the blocks” of Barbados where there is a trade in marijuana at the supply and profit level? Or should we be looking for individuals and perhaps companies able to provide the large sums of cash it must be taking to bring significant numbers of guns into Barbados at one time?

Moreover, it is alleged that gunrunning and marijuana importation are two trades inextricably linked. Interestingly, however, when drugs are seized at houses, or on the territorial waters of Barbados, the public gets a report of what was seized; we also have an idea of how many pounds of marijuana are destroyed when the police burn the herb.  What we never seem to get is an idea of what happens to the guns which are alleged to be brought into the island at the same time as the marijuana.

Where do guns seized in police raids go? How are they logged and stored? To my mind, these would be the relevant discussions if we were really trying to trace the guns which seem quite easily to reach the streets of Barbados.

Guns are on the streets of Barbados, and this leaves mothers with a real need to ensure their children are in meaningful and regulated activity for the summer holiday. Over the last few years, however, there have been some interesting developments in options for summer camps.

On the positive side, entrepreneurs have been able to adapt the need for wholesome summer activity into a number of offerings based on programmes in academics, art, sports and other outdoor activity. There are two major concerns about how the industry is developing.

Firstly, which is the state agency responsible for the regulation of these various camps?  Although the Ministry of Education is responsible for school programmes, traditionally the Ministry of Youth affairs has regulated the Government’s own summer camp offering.

The Ministry of Youth and the Ministry of Education have at some points been under the same minister, but at others they have been under different ministers –– as presently obtains. Who then is responsible for setting minimum standards for camps in Barbados?  Who analyses the timetables and schedules, determines the staff needed and other requirements to ensure our wards are safe and age-appropriately entertained?

The other challenge is with the costing of these offerings. The average mother trying to find safe activities for her children is doing so while securing books, uniforms and other school necessities. To have camps going for as much as $400 for two weeks, they become prohibitive for a majority of people to access.

Will we have to let the camp situation in Barbados spiral way out of control before it is given any attention? Or will we deal with this horse while only its head is peeping from the stable?

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in comunications at the University of the West Indies. Email

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