Foreign food, agri exporters save millions due to PH's lax regulation on food safety

Food and agriculture exporters from other countries selling their products to the Philippines save millions of money because of the government's lenient food safety regulations, a local exporter said.  

Norberto Chingcuanco, co-convenor of Tugon Kabuhayan, said that while local exporters strictly follow other countries' strict food safety regulations, the Philippine government is pretty much lenient to exporters of other countries.

Norberto Chingcuanco, co-convenor of Tugon Kabuhayan

He said that basically, local food exporters like him pay millions in laboratory and inspection fees to prove their products are safe for consumption in other countries.

This, while foreign exporters only need to secure health certificates as part of the final process before their food products can be distributed here in the Philippines.

Chingcuanco is a Filipino businessman who is into by-production, production, processing, and export of shrimp and other seafood products. He exports his products to 27 countries.

“In other countries, the last process usually is that we are required to have a health certificate for our products and then will have our products quarantined in a facility. They will inspect them for salmonella, e. coli, etc. All the lab inspection fees are paid for by exporters,” Chingcuanco said in a virtual food security forum.  

“We don’t have that in the Philippines,” he further said.

Asis Perez, convenor of Tugon Kabuhayan, agreed with Chingcuanco that foreign exporters “are saving more” compared to local exporters because of the Philippine government’s lax rules on food safety.

Asis Perez, convenor of Tugon Kabuhayan

He said the proper process is that before products are charged with duties by the Bureau of Customs and eventually distributed in the country, they should be first inspected and examined in laboratories for food safety purposes.  

“This will not require additional budget on the part of the government because it should be manufacturers or exporters who should shoulder the lab fees,” Perez, who served as the director of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the previous administration, said. 

Perez said the good thing is that for fish and seafood products, BFAR has already taken preliminary steps in drafting the guidelines on the inspection and labeling of imported goods.

Likewise, the Department of Agriculture's (DA) plan to construct a first-border quarantine facility for meat and livestock products will also significantly help in ensuring food safety in the country, he added.

Jhunafe Ruanto, a trade expert, said in October last year that in the Philippines, it is “indeed easier to import than export” when it comes to food labeling alone.

“Our exporters understand strict requirements. They know how hard it is to send products abroad, like in Europe and New Zealand. Other countries are just really strict when it comes to food safety,” she said.

Ideally, based on the country’s food safety laws, all imported food products should have been pre-approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they reach the groceries and supermarkets.

Under such a process, it is assumed that the food labels have already been translated by the exporter before they reach the borders of the Philippines.  

And yet, imported products such as instant Korean and Chinese noodles that have untranslated food labels are still being sold across the country either through groceries or online.

Virginia Suarez, secretary general of Kilusan Para sa Pambansang Demokrasya, said the government should be held liable for allowing these products to enter the country because this is detrimental to local food producers and it endangers consumers.