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A Case Study of Guatemalan Raspberry Imports

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Critical Review on:

Powell, D. (2000) Risk-Based Regulatory Responses in Global Food Trade: A Case Study of Guatemalan Raspberry Imports into the United States and Canada, 1996-1998 in Risky Business; Canada’s Changing Science-Based Policy and Regulatory Regime, pp.131-155.  


Effie Dela Cruz

University of Guelph


The book chapter, “Risk-Based Regulatory Responses in Global Food Trade: A Case Study of Guatemalan Raspberry Imports into the United States and Canada, 1996-1998” by Douglas Powell, aims to address the failure of the Canadian Government to respond effectively to the 1998 Cyclospora cayetanensis outbreak. The author was able to give a great summary of the 1996 - 1997 U.S. outbreak leading up to Canada’s ban on the 1998 fall harvest of Guatemalan Raspberry.  He was also able to give a clear picture of how different the United States and Canada respond to Food-borne illness outbreaks.  The main problem being addressed is that while the U.S. public was informed of the issues surrounding the outbreak and the connection to the Guatemalan raspberries, the Canadian public was not.  Powell (2000) has also stated that the Canadian food and regulatory system failed to deal efficiently with the health risks involved and the Canadian government’s inability to implement the risk management cycle during this incident.  This case study has revealed exhaustive information to support the author’s points of view that I tend to agree with his statements and conclusion.  Dr. Douglas A. Powell has a PhD in Food Science from the University of Guelph and is currently a Food Safety consultant and writer in Brisbane, Australia.  Dr. Powell been published more than 400 times and he is presently the publisher and editor of which is a resource for food safety information.

The book chapter is well researched and it was able to provide a detailed account of the Cyclospora outbreak in the United States in 1996-97 and in Canada in 1998.  Powell (2000) also goes into great lengths to give the readers a comprehensive look on food safety in the global trade and continuous discussion on the roles that risk assessment, risk management and risk communication play.

It is clear that risk assessment has an important role when it comes to food safety in the global market. The author has enumerated the different models that have already been adopted by various regulating bodies relative to the risk. He also states that it is impossible to not relate the scientific findings to policy and herein lies the conflict. This is what makes accountability more complicated as conservatism becomes a factor in the decision making process. However, with the development of an integrated framework in the United States for risk assessment and risk management, this has allowed their government, businesses and the public to make good risk management decisions.

Powell (2000) starts off with the June 11, 1998 announcement from Dr. Barbara Yaffe that health officials from the City of Toronto were looking into more than sixty cases of Cyclospora in people who had consumed contaminated food. The U.S. dealt with the same issue right about the same time in 1996 and 1997 but not in 1998. It can be attributed to the fact that the U.S. has banned the importation of raspberries from Guatemala in December of 1997. The question that Powell asked is why did Canada not do the same?

The author has provided a good justification on why Canada did not prohibit the importation of Guatemalan raspberries in 1998. First, the outbreak in 1997 was not irrefutably linked to the Guatemalan raspberries and secondly, the Canadian officials have agreed that they can be imported after their visit to Guatemalan farms in April 1998 as long as they came from low-risk farms. However, it would have made the book chapter more balanced if there was also an accounting of how the Canadian Government came to that decision.  There was a lot of information on what actions were taken by the United States during the 1996-1997 outbreaks. I am not 100% sure if there was just no information available or there was not enough research done.

I would also add that following the account of the author on the initial discovery of the Cyclospora in June 1996, where in Canada issued an advisory to the public on the possible connection between the consumption of strawberries from California and the diarrhea outbreak illness, I do agree that the Canadian government was just being cautious. It is a fact that the California strawberries market collapsed then at a cost of $20 to $40 million due to the loss of consumer confidence and that they did not want to be in a position where they can be wrong. As the CDC article “Communicating Food-borne Disease Risk,  Emerging Infectious Diseases 1997”pointed out, it becomes a problem when you do not have the entire information as technical experts tend to want to have all their facts first before saying anything.

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