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Enough supplies in Puerto Rico to ensure food security

By on September 12, 2017

SAN JUAN – Uncertainty about there being sufficient food in Puerto Rico to supply a population that gets 80 percent of the products it consumes from abroad continues to worry the public after Hurricane Irma impacted Florida, from where most of the imports arrive.

However, the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association (PRMA) and the Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym) assured that, although the weather phenomenon severely affected several of the ports from which the island receives supplies, there is enough food, gas and diesel to last at least two months.

The Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association guaranteed to the public the existence of sufficient food supplies in Puerto Rico for more than one month in the event of an eventuality in which the freights of Florida were interrupted. (Agustín Criollo/CB)

PRMA President Rodrigo Masses, accompanied by MIDA Executive Director Manuel Reyes, as well as representatives from the shipping and gas industries, assured the public that there is no reason to fear a shortage of supplies.

“There is inventory, there doesn’t seem to be a major disruption in Jacksonville. Things are still flowing there and we are waiting for the report, but I know that up to [Monday] morning they were feeling the effects of the storm strike in that part of Florida, but it does not seem to be serious so we are not at risk of a huge shortage,” Reyes said in reference to the port of Jacksonville, on Florida’s East Coast, from where most of the products consumed on the island are imported.

“There will always be a shortage of some products, especially those fresh and perishable ones that were already interrupted by the closure of both the port here and Jacksonville […] In general terms, usually in Puerto Rico there are between three weeks to one month of canned and non-perishable foods. That inventory decreased with the event that happened in Puerto Rico, but the information we received is that in general terms there are supplies and, if the supply has not been interrupted, as it seems, there should be no major problems,” he added.

However, Reyes admitted that it is very difficult to be specific about which products could be scarce in circumstances such as the arrival of a weather phenomenon of this magnitude. Currently, there is no detailed government or private inventory of the different varieties of perishable and non-perishable foods that can be used to assess more effectively which need priority.

“Unfortunately, Puerto Rico does not have an item-by-item breakdown and how much inventory there is for each. That has been one of the claims we have made consistently with the issue of food security. Now, according to our data, from surveys by our partners, normally in Puerto Rico there are between 13 weeks and a month, perhaps a little more, of food suppy,” Reyes explained as he highlighted the fact that Hurricane Irma fortunately didn’t cause an interruption that merits concern.

Regarding the availability of propane and diesel fuel on the island, Ramón González, president of Empire Gas, said the inventory of these products is “healthy” and a supply disruption is not expected.

“We are very well supplied with sufficient propane gas inventory, we still have three million gallons, which translates into 20 or 30 days of supplies. A ship is coming next week, so we’re fine in that area. The same with diesel; there is enough inventory at the terminals in Puerto Rico, which are our suppliers,” González said.

“We have a terminal of more than 14 million gallons, plus a reserve of this same amount that we do not touch precisely for emergency matters. To get to that reserve we would have to reach more than 60 days of consumption, which will not happen because a ship is coming soon. Nevertheless, we urge patience and to provide the best possible product. Turn off the generators when you can, and service them during the day,” he added.

González said that Empire Gas has 40 trucks serving the entire island, giving priority to the northern region, which was the most affected by Irma.

Meanwhile, José Ayala, spokesman for the shipping company Crowley Maritime, confirmed that the fleet interruption from Florida to Puerto Rico was minimal. The company issued a release saying regular operations had resumed Tuesday

Ayala explained how his company’s contingency plan works in emergencies such as a hurricane.

“Once a coming storm is identified, we advance two trips on what is called an accelerated itinerary. Before the storm arrived 1,000 containers were unloaded between Monday, August 4 and Tuesday the 5th. Once the [hurricane] past, two more vessels were unloaded that we had in a port in the southern area of ​​Hispaniola for security reasons. Among these vessels were 2,000 containers,” the Crowley spokesperson said.

“To date there are 2,003 containers in our terminal full of food and basic necessities and 200 refrigerated containers. We know that domestic companies like TOTE and National Shipping are already running normally so they must also have very large inventories,” he added.

Ayala said that on Tuesday morning inspection work was being carried out in the Port of Jacksonville, but said they don’t expect major inconveniences because te port was not significantly affected by the hurricane. By Tuesday afternoon , he said, a vessel was slated to sail from that port to Puerto Rico carrying 2,000 additional containers that are expected to arrive this weekend.

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