China’s reported overuse of antibiotics in its fisheries products threatens food safety in the Philippines, which imports billions worth of seafood products from the world’s second-largest economy every year.
In a virtual briefing on Monday, Asis Perez, convenor of food security advocacy group Tugon Kabuhayan, raised concerns over the study recently published in the journal Marine Environmental Science, revealing that China has dumped large quantities of antibiotics into the ocean.
According to the study, the amount of antibiotics found along China’s 32,000-kilometer coastline is equivalent to 20,000 penicillin tablets dropped in a standard-sized swimming pool.
The study, conducted by a team led by Peking University professor Wen Donghui, was first cited in South China Morning Post.
Perez, who is also the former director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), said this is a food safety concern and should alarm the Philippine government.
To be specific, he said this should prompt the Philippine government to be stricter in terms of the fish and seafood products that it will allow to enter the country and be distributed to Filipino consumers.
“China is the leading exporter of fish. It produces 80 percent of the world’s fisheries export,” Perez said. “It should also be noted that the Philippines imported P9-billion worth of fish, mollusks, and aquatic invertebrates from China in 2019”.
Perez said that ideally, fish are only fed with antibiotics when they are sick and that they can’t be sold and consumed if they still have the residues of the medicine in their bodies.
Chinese farmers’ excessive use of antibiotics can be traced to Chinese farmers’ intent to suppress the spread of superbugs in their production.
“It is worth noting that prohibited antibiotics such as fulfathiaole, chloramphenicol and erythromycin were detected in the waters, indicating that the farmers may or may have used antibiotics in violation of regulations,” Wen said in the Peking University study.
The use of most antibiotics in food production is banned in China.
Perez said “eating fish with antibiotics is potentially dangerous” especially if those fish were made to consume “three times the allowable amount” of antibiotics.
“We are calling for the government to fast-track the establishment of the first border facility at ports,” Perez said.
Perez was referring to the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) plan to build the country’s first Agriculture Commodity Examination Area (ACEA), the construction of which now awaits the approval of the Philippine Ports Authority.
“If we can’t still have that facility, let’s at least tap third-party testing that will look into fish imports coming from China. We are looking at universities as partners as well as private laboratories,” Perez further said.
“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,” he added.
Some of the fish products that the Philippines currently import from China are galunggong, tilapia, and pompano.
The DA and BFAR were sought to provide comments on this report but both agencies have yet issued their respective statements.
Meanwhile, the Philippine Fisheries Development Authority’s (PFDA) Navotas Fish Port Complex (NFPC) has concluded the first quarter of this year, with an unloading record of 46,436.77 metric tons (MT) of fish supply.
For the March 24 to 31 period alone, NFPC has recorded 3,606.90 MT of unloaded fish supply, which are composed of aquaculture (1,025.04 MT), marine (2,106.982 MT), and frozen (474.88 MT).
In total, NFPC has unloaded 18,647.47 MT of fish supply in March, significantly surpassing its January and February volume record of 12,404.4 MT and 15,384.9 MT, respectively.
Galunggong, bangus, tilapia, tulingan, and tamban maintained their position in the top five common species with the highest availability record for March.