Home » The Export Advocate » Poison in Food

Whether we like it or not, the Philippines is now under extreme pressure to comply with global quality, safety, health and even environment standards as part of standard import requirements. A sector which has been the subject of many and very strict guidelines is food products. Major trading partners, particularly, the US, Japan and EU, have raised their standards on safe food they buy from anywhere.

 

To stay in the global marketplace, our exporters have been quick to comply with these rules. Standards such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points, Good Agricultural Practices, Good Manufacturing Practices, Halal (for Islamic food) and Kosher (for Jewish food) are enforced by respective global markets and local exporters have adopted their factories and supply chains to suit.

 

Unfortunately, the same could not be said on how food is produced, processed and imported for domestic consumption. Informal reports show that token enforcement of health and safety standards had been the standard practice until recently.

 

The first substantial change came only a couple of years back when Congress renamed the Bureau of Food and Drugs to Food and Drug Administration, curiously enough the agency’s previous name. Under this law, the FDA got a bigger budget to upgrade its antique laboratory facilities and for it to keep on doing its job efficiently.

 

Informal complaints, however, still persist on FDA delays at certifying whether or not a new line of processed food, herbal medicine or beauty product is fit for public consumption.

 

But recent FDA crackdowns on local products like soy sauce and imported products like milk and skin whiteners from China show the agency is finally flexing its muscle the way the US FDA has been cracking down on unsafe and sub-standard products. (It is perhaps worth noting that the Americans originally created the local FDA office in the 1920s.)

 

Meat inspectors in Metro Manila, of late, have also been doing their jobs, detecting and confiscating spoiled meat (locally known as botcha) sold in public markets.

 

There is one area remained untouched by meat inspectors – smuggled meat. Local hog and poultry raisers have lately been making a lot of noise over massive smuggling of pork, dressed chicken and beef.

 

We don’t know how the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources prevents public sale of spoiled fish and other marine products. All we know is that it bans collection of clams whenever the weather triggers accumulation of the toxin called “red tide” in the innards of our favorite marine product, the tahong or mussel.

 

We still see fishes caught in the wild that look hard and fresh even without being frozen in ice, displayed by fish vendors in public markets. We were told these have been soaked in water mixed with formaline, the very substance used in embalming the dead. Deadly indeed!

 

We are also intrigued by fruits and vegetables on display in stalls that look shiny and fresh even after days of exposure to the elements. These are supposedly soaked in water laced with a preservative banned in other countries.

 

More dangerous than these preservatives are chemical pesticides, fungicides, molluskticides and herbicide in most farm produce. As a result of applying these chemicals, vegetables such as ampalaya, patola, squash, eggplant, cabbages, carrots and cauliflowers get bigger and bigger and achieve a very healthy look.

 

Power sprayers are often used to efficiently spread toxins on hectares upon hectares of vegetable gardens to kill destructive insects, weeds and germs. However in the process, they also kill the friendly ones like frogs and spiders. Our bet is that there’s a lot of poison in many healthy-looking veggies.

 

We have yet to come out with our version of the “dirty dozen” as the Americans call the 12 fresh fruits and vegetables most contaminated with chemical residues. This year, number one in the US list are apples. Also in the dirty list are cucumber, lettuce and strawberries that we eat raw.

 

The Department of Trade and Industry has long advocated there should be no double standard for export and domestic products. If we are made to and are able to comply with global standards on safety and health, the same benefits should be enjoyed by local consumers for both imported and domestically-produced/sourced food.

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