Philippines’s Food Safety ‘Generally Low’; Global Travel, Trade Increase Spread of Virulent Diseases

In this age of “fast lanes,” “fastfoods” and “fast habits,” a significant number of people in the country have obviously taken for granted the quality and safety of the food they eat, and something must be done to prevent the trend from worsening.

Vol. VII, No. 36, October 14-20, 2007

BACOLOD CITY – In this age of “fast lanes,” “fastfoods” and “fast habits,” a significant number of people in the country have obviously taken for granted the quality and safety of the food they eat, and something must be done to prevent the trend from worsening.

This was the core message given by Dr. Leonarda Mendoza, senior adviser of GTZ Trade Policy and Trade Promotion Project, in her presentation of the “Status of Food Safety and Export-Related Infrastructure in the Visayas” before the participants of the recently-concluded Philippine Organic Aquaculture Symposium.

Mendoza said that unknown to many, a number of food in the market contain biological, chemical and physical toxic substances that have been the cause of many illnesses and untimely deaths.

She that these problems have been due to prevalent use of banned pesticides, preservatives, molluscicides and highly toxic materials like cyanide; inappropriate technologies and lack of certified testing laboratories in a number of regions in the country.

She revealed that in the Visayas, there are only three food testing laboratories apart from those operated by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST)-Region VII. Only the DOST food testing laboratories are certified, she said.

Compounding these problems, Mendoza said, are the lack of equipments for laboratory analysis, lack operational budget, a curriculum not responsive to current concerns on food safety, and the fact that the public (consumers) are generally uninformed about the country’s food safety status.

In addition, she said the Philippines is also poor in compliance with international standards – especially European Union standards – in food export-related infrastructures.

She said that in the Philippines, the operations and maintenance of fish ports and fish landing, fishing boats supplying raw materials for export, ice plants and cold storage, transport vans and containers, and other related facilities generally are not at par with internationally-certified standards in food export infrastructures.

On a related issue, Dr. Juergen Janssen of JLP Consulting Manila said that exporting to the European Union market is very difficult because of its strict rules on all imported products including organic aquaculture products. He said EU has came up with a very sophisticated Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) which monitors and assesses the quality of all imported seafood products, especially those that possibly contain heavy metals, residues of veterinary medical products, food additives, industrial contaminants, pathogenic micro-organisms, bio-toxins, parasitic infestation, and insufficient controls.

He disclosed that the Philippines had been given 41 notifications in 2006 by RASFF for certain violations. China had 163, Thailand 86, Vietnam 68, and Indonesia 43, he added.

Mendoza further said that the significant increase in global travel and trade, in which the Philippines is becoming an active player, has also increased the transmission of biological, chemical and physical toxins in traded food and products, and consequently, the rapid contamination of people by all kinds of virulent diseases.

Given these conditions, food safety standards – especially the use of appropriate technologies and compliance to food safety standards, must be strictly observed if we want to protect our consumers from health hazards, create competitive advantages and ensures the rural livelihood in the value chain, she said.

Mendoza explained that food safety concerns are not limited to aquaculture operations and fisheries operations. The same apply to all other agricultural practices, she said, because contaminants are acquired from the source – production sites, processing plants and distribution channels.

“Today it can no longer be said that product safety is solely the responsibility of the post-production sector,” she stressed. “Product safety is managed from the source.”

For these, Mendoza challenged the symposium’s participants and the government to strictly implement laws and regulations related to quality and safety; conduct research that can support policies on quality and safety; and identify techniques that can improve the education of all stakeholders and to develop curricula that can enhance food safety awareness even in primary schools.(

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