SINT MAARTEN (PHILIPSBURG) – Member of Parliament Rolando Brison (USP) on Sunday said the very recent news about the tragic deaths of several tourists in the Dominican Republic, some reportedly due to the consumption of counterfeit and decoded products (fake/bad liquor), has created a clear and present danger to all countries, including St Maarten that doesn’t regulate the supply chain of goods sold in the marketplace.
Brison said the laws and decrees are in place but the various departments in government need to immediately act and tackle these criminal acts before it is too late. “Now more than ever they are needed to safeguard the health and safety of our local people and millions of tourists,” Brison said.
MP Brison is calling for immediate enforcement of the existing laws from the various ministries and will sit down with the various importers to find a short-to-midterm solution. The primary focus of this will be to ensure supply chain integrity while ensuring that counterfeit and decoded products are permanently eradicated from the marketplace.
The MP said a possible avenue to support these actions would be the setting-up of a unique Whatsapp line and email for people to send information about infractions so that the respective enforcement agencies have the relevant information and can act immediately in seizures and destruction of product(s).
As of June 30, there were at least nine deaths with similar circumstances over the past few months. The FBI along with Dominican authorities are investigating, and the principle theory is that counterfeit/tampered alcohol was the cause of these deaths.
The FBI has reportedly taken samples of alcohol for testing, and the hotels where some tourists died have removed alcohol from the minibars in the hotel rooms. Counterfeit or illegally made alcohol brings a new level of risk, as it is not monitored for safety and may include added ingredients, known to be extremely harmful to health.
The World Health Organization estimates that 25% of the alcohol consumed worldwide is unrecorded. Counterfeit alcohol is typically meant to resemble legitimate alcohol, and expensive spirits, in terms of its look, taste and packaging.
One of the key aspects of counterfeit or illegal alcohol is that producers distill the alcohol more cheaply and quickly using dangerous shortcuts in the process, such as adding water and methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, which is highly toxic. Methanol is not intended for human consumption and can cause liver damage, blindness and death if consumed. Earlier this year, toxic alcohol killed at least 154 people in India because it was tainted with methanol.
The various incidents in the Dominican Republic are having a tremendous negative impact on their tourism industry. Bookings are down 74.3% in July and August. “The effects that any of these incidents would have on St. Maarten and its fragile tourism economy would be detrimental,” MP Brison said. “It is of the most importance that as a country, we take a proactive approach to safeguard the quality of alcoholic beverages being sold on our island before it is too late.”
In a previous press release by The Inspectorate of public health, the department urged consumers to be alert with their purchases after noticing that the labels of food items along with beverages are being tampered with and said that this was a criminal offence. Decoding starts when someone deliberately removes the so-called lot codes from a label to make the product untraceable. “This and is also a criminal offence and can jeopardize the health and safety of all consumers,” Brison said.
Last year June, local distributor CC1 was successful recalling a batch of their Stella Artois beer brand that contained particles of glass inside the bottles. Without lot codes this would’ve been impossible. The inspectorate said that according to local laws, it is prohibited to import, sell and/or export food products without taking in consideration the labeling requirements as laid down in the National decree on Food Labeling (AB 2013,GT no. 194). The decree states that all food products, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, must have information, instructions and warnings on the production batch.