A poultry industry official yesterday denied local chicken meat is tainted by added growth hormones, in contrast to a common view these chemicals are added to speed their growth but at possible risk to human health. He was speaking at a briefing held by Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon at her ministry.
In reply to Newsday’s query as to whether local chicken has added hormones, Desmond Ali, head of the Caribbean Poultry Association, said no.
“I want to put this hormone thing to rest once and for all. The last time we used hormones was 1963.”
He said it is impractical to use hormones as each bird must be injected independently or each be tagged with a device to gradually release the chemical into the bird.
Ali said local poultry farms each year turn over millions of chickens, each of which is grown for 37 to 42 days. “So it is physically impossible.”
Told that bags of imported American poultry are labelled as being hormone-free, Ali scoffed, “That means absolutely nothing. No poultry producer in the world uses hormones.”
He made the point that under the World Trade Organisation set-up, a country cannot apply different quality standards for local and imported products.
Ali otherwise said the United States’ Department of Agriculture (DOA) issues American poultry exporters with a five-page document stating the standards required by an importing country such as TT.
“There are a number of hoops to jump through to import chicken to TT. If you cannot, then the US DOA will not give you a licence. Poultry won’t leave the US unless it meets the requirements.”
Gopee-Scoon added that likewise, poultry exports from Canada and the UK also need certification. Otherwise, the minister said on August 18 Cabinet had agreed to enforce the Caricom Regional Standard for Poultry and Poultry Products, to be enforced by the Health Ministry.
It regulates sanitation, hygiene, grading, packaging, labelling, marketing, and inspection, but does not apply to freshly-killed poultry.
The standard says that for chilled poultry the “best before” date must be within five days of the slaughter date, and for frozen chicken it must be within six months, but for frozen chicken it can be up to 12 months. Gopee-Scoon said TT citizens eat 55 million chickens each year. This poultry weighs 50,000 tonnes. The average family eats chicken three to four times per week. Some 60 per cent of poultry is locally produced, and 40 per cent is imported.
The minister said TT local production had risen by 27 per cent over a two year period. It rose from 26 million birds in 2015, to 32 million in 2016 and 33 million in 2017, Gopee-Scoon revealed.