SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ, Nueva Ecija – The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) is urging local government units (LGUs) to enforce proper and truthful labeling in rice to enable consumers to differentiate locally-produced rice from imported ones.
Alice B. Mataia, lead of PhilRice’s Policy Research and Advocacy project, in a statement on Friday, said the agency is recommending the formation of a local task force that would ensure that retailers consistently follow the correct standards in labeling.
Mataia said specifying rice sources in rice packages, box labels, and price tags will help consumers who want safe and quality local rice to make easy choices.
“A PhilRice-IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) study showed that Philippine rice recorded the least pesticide usage than the other rice-producing countries in Southeast Asia. With the LGUs enforcing existing guidelines on labeling of rice boxes and price tags through an ordinance or a resolution, we help consumers exercise their power to choose,” she said.
Mataia, an economist, also said demand for local rice may spur when more consumers can spot local rice and choose to buy it over imported ones, which will encourage rice traders to source their supply from local farmers.
“Also a way of promoting locally-produced rice, truthful labeling in rice entails putting valid, reliable, and complete information about the milling classification and source of rice in sacks/packages, rice boxes, or price tags based on prescribed labeling standards,” she said.
Mataia likewise said guidelines on rice labeling exist since 2018, which was issued by the National Food Authority (NFA) and specified in the 2019 Philippine National Standards on Grains Grading and Classification.
The Rice Tariffication Law, however, repeals NFA’s regulatory functions, including its role in enforcing the national grains standard.
She noted that while the Bureau of Plant Industry took charge of NFA’s functions through inspections and issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSICs), it does not cover the implementation of labeling guidelines in rice.
She also said that retailer compliance with the Philippine National Standards on rice labeling and price tagging is voluntary.
“The system glitches on who-should-do-what in implementing labeling guidelines have resulted in some traders opting to not comply with the guidelines. Some retailers fail to meet the basic minimum standard and disregard milling grade and source in price tags,” she said.
At present, Mataia said some traders still include the rice brands while some allegedly mix imported and local rice or different rice grades to command higher prices, which are prohibited under Republic Act 7394 or the Consumer Act of the Philippines.
Meanwhile, a major nutrition program of the local government of Talavera, Nueva Ecija spared residents of the first-class municipality from the burden of skyrocketing prices of vegetables.
Mercy Dalangin-Pabula, chief of the Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO), said on Friday that the unprecedented increase in prices of agricultural products, came when almost all households have various plants in the backyards under the town’s Gulayan sa Barangay and Gulayan sa Paaralan program.
“Sa likod-bahay po nila ay may tanim silang isang plot na talong, isang plot na okra at iba pa (At the backyards, they have planted one plot of eggplants, one plot of okra and others),” Pabula said in an interview.
Under the program, all residents are encouraged to make vegetable planting a lifestyle. They plant any kind of vegetables in plots or containers.
All the 53 barangays have also developed areas for vegetable gardens, including vacant spaces and road shoulders.
Pabula noted that this town was proclaimed as the vegetable basket or gulayan capital of Nueva Ecija by virtue of a Sanggunian Panlalawigan resolution.
On the other hand, farmers gained from such high prices, she said.
“Talagang kumita po. Nakita po natin na ang ating mga magsasaka ay kumita po sa gulay (They indeed gained profit. We saw our farmers earned income from vegetables)” Pabula said.
This developed as agriculture officials and stakeholders in the province joined the “Go Gulay Field Day” activity hosted by hybrid vegetable seed producer SeedWorks Philippines in its experimental station here from Jan. 20-22.
“Yan po ang napaka-importante, yang kalidad ng binhi (That is most important, the quality of seeds),” Pabula said.
During the field day, SeedWorks showcased 11 “high-yielding hybrid vegetable varieties” such as Prolifica Eggplant, Exotica XL/Long Green Hot Chili Pepper, Upright Red Hot Chili Pepper, Banahaw Green String Bean, Winner Bitter Gourd, Viagrow Ridge Gourd, Black Mamba Watermelon Dark Green, Panay Sweetheart Watermelon Stripe, Ultima Big Squash, Sakto Butternut Squash, and Sweet Ninja Sweet Corn. (PNA)