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Yesterday importer Jack Charles dropped a bomb on the nation when he issued a release alleging that the local rice consumed by Belizeans is contaminated with Aflatoxin which causes cancer and is also linked to liver disease and other illnesses.

Charles alleges that test results of samples of the local rice sent to Eurofins Laboratory in New Orleans for testing show the product being contaminated with less than 2 micro grams per kilogram of Aflatoxin B1, B2, G1 and G2. The Belize Bureau of Standards has rebutted Charles’ allegation by stating that the test results shows that none of the rice samples analyzed contain detectable levels of Aflatoxins and as a result does not pose any threat to human health.

And Orange Walk South Area Representative Jose Abelardo Mai agrees with the bureau. Today he told us that when it comes to the samples sent for testing, there are a number of things to consider.

Screen_Shot_2016-02-11_at_6.27.50_PMHonorable Jose Abelardo Mai – Orange Walk South Area Representative

“We must understand that the only competent authority for food safety in this country is BAHA, second thing that comes to mind is where did he got that sample, he could say he got it from Circle R, he got it from the Shipyard Group he can say anything, we need to know exactly where he got the sample from, the third thing that comes to mind is what procedure, method or protocol did he used to collect that sample, samples has to be taken in a specific way, there are specific methods to take samples, if you are going to take samples from a silo that has 150,000  pounds of rice where will you take the samples from the top, middle, at the bottom so that is another question that needs to be answered, the next thing is what conditions, when you took that sample what conditions did you store the samples in when you send for testing, I noticed that the temperature on the rice was high on the sample so where did he had this and then the next thing you have to ask yourself is which laboratory did this test.”

The law states that local rice should be free of Microbiological contaminants and chemicals for example Aflatoxin which is created by improper storage. As mentioned, the results of the analysis show that the samples sent contained less than 2 micro grams per kilogram of Aflatoxin. This level though poses no health risks to humans, says Mai and moreover it is impossible for the local rice to be completely free of contaminants since we live in a Tropical Climate.

Honorable Jose Abelardo Mai – Orange Walk South Area Representative

“I don’t believe we have established the level of aflatoxins in rice in this country but when we do not have standards for specific aflatoxins we use US standards, the US standards says for food consumed by humans, the maximum tolerance level is 20 micro grams per kilograms, for animal feed it goes up to 200 micro-grams per kilograms for certain animal feed so having less than 2 micro grams per kilogram is almost insignificant, the next important thing is that the Aflatoxin is one of the metabolites of the fungus and this fungus is soil born in all the tropics, it is mostly related to storage in other words directly related to the moisture in the grain so it is more of a late maturing to post harvest pathogen, it is almost impossible to have grain in the tropical countries without Aflatoxins.”

According to Mai, it is disappointing to hear what Charles is doing to discredit local producers.

Honorable Jose Abelardo Mai – Orange Walk South Area Representative

“It just amazes me to see the length to which this gentleman would go to try to discredit the hard working farmers of this country, it is completely unacceptable, if I would be the farmers I would get my attorney to peruse well his press release and if there is any libelous information in there I would propose that the farmers take this to the next level, if they would not be making money of rice then they could be making money of suing somebody for passing on slanderous information and misleading information and if he believes that he would mislead the Belizean people and for them to think that the Belizean rice is not good for human consumption I would buy Jack Charles rice that is the whole objective behind this, he is trying to discredit our farmers our hard working farmers and who are poor by the way and try to bring rice from Guyana he would stop at nothing and this is unacceptable and we have to support our farmers, we have to produce what we eat and eat what we produce that is the only way this country could move forward.”

Today CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche also shared Mai’s sentiments.

Jose Alpuche – CEO Ministry of Agriculture

“I believe what he is doing is a disservice to the rice industry and to the consumer and a disservice to Belize and we have to be much more serious than that, we dealing with people livelihoods when we speak of any productive sector here in Belize and really would hope that people would be a little bit more responsible than to put these alarming false reports.”

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