Agri groups push for stricter food importation rules

Agri groups push for stricter food importation rules

File photo of mis-declared shipment of frozen mackerel seized by the BoC at the port of Cebu recently. The two 40-foot laden containers were declared to contain frozen squid.

By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — Following reports of rampant use of antibiotics in mariculture products by countries exporting farm produce to the Philippines, advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan is urging the government to add ‘teeth’ to existing importation rules and expedite the construction of the PhP527-million border inspection facility that would strengthen on-site border control inspections for imported animals, plants, meat, and other farm and fishery products arriving in the country’s major international seaports.

Prior to this, the umbrella organization for agriculture groups known as Samahan Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to fast-track the construction of the country’s first border inspection facility at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) in Manila.

Even as the Bureau of Customs (BoC) continue to seize illegal agricultural shipments at the country’s several seaports, SINAG has been pushing for government’s infrastructure to stop cases of smuggling and misdeclaration of goods. Industry groups believe that many cases of smuggling and under-declared incidents continue to slip through Customs inspections.

SINAG chair Rosendo So noted that the lack of inspections had led to the spread of viral animal diseases such as African swine fever. This has been proven by a DA pronouncement that the entry of the hog disease into the country was caused by smuggled pork from China.

For its part, Tugon Kabuhayan said more stringent rules should be in place, especially after China, a country that supplies over PhP9 billion worth of mari-culture products in the Philippines, allegedly uses antibiotics in its fish farms.

Citing a study by Peking University professor Wen Donghui, group convenor Asis Perez contended that the alleged overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of drug-resistant superbugs in the long run.

“We must emphasize that we shouldn’t discriminate in terms of inspection and testing. All imported fish and other food items, for that matter, should be tested for antibiotics and diseases, regardless of their country of origin,” Perez pointed out.

A study in the Marine Environmental Science journal revealed that the use of antibiotics in off-shore farms is “subject to less stringent regulations than on land because of the common belief that the huge body of ocean water can dilute the drugs.”

Prohibited antibiotics like fulfathiaole, chloramphenicol and erythromycin were detected in the waters, which indicated that the Chinese farmers may have violated the rules in using antibiotics.

While these antibiotics might not cause immediate harm, the study warned “the combined effect of different types of antibiotics remains poorly understood and requires further investigation.”

In 2019, the Philippines imported over PhP9 billion worth of fish, mollusks, and aquatic invertebrates—including pampano, baby shrimps and tilapia—from China.

Late last year, Agriculture Secretary William Dar admitted that the stalemate in the country’s first border inspection facility was due to “legal and logistical barriers.”

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