MANILA, Philippines - A plasticizer contaminant was found in samples of suspected synthetic rice obtained from Davao City, the National Food Authority (NFA) said yesterday.
Samples of cooked rice obtained from a complainant in Davao City were sent last week to the NFA-Food Development Center in Taguig City for preliminary laboratory testing, results of which were cleared yesterday.
Food security chief Francis Pangilinan, who oversees the state grains procurement agency, said the samples were found to contain dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a plasticizer used for the manufacture of cosmetics.
“There are still further tests needed to determine if there are resins so the test results are still inconclusive,” he said.
Citing a medical advisory from the Department of Health (DOH), Pangilinan said DBP is considered harmful if ingested in large amounts.
“There is no cause for alarm as DBP, when taken in small amounts, is not harmful. As per DOH medical advisory, for DBP to become harmful it needs to be ingested repeatedly for months,” he said.
Pangilinan said the agency decided to disclose the results of the preliminary testing, although still inconclusive, as a matter of precaution and to ensure the consuming public stays vigilant.
NFA administrator Renan Dalisay said the initial microscopic test conducted on samples from Davao established that it has starch content, same as the NFA rice it was compared to.
It still has to be determined if the starch found in the rice is indeed rice or other grains such as corn and potatoes, ingredients supposedly found in the so-called fake rice, along with resin.
Dalisay said the NFA has coordinated with the DOH and the Food and Drug Administration to analyze the starch content of the sample and determine the presence of heavy metals in it.
Some of the samples would have to be sent overseas as the Philippines does not have the proper equipment for conducting some of the succeeding tests.
Synthetic rice, allegedly manufactured in China, is believed to be made from potatoes, sweet potatoes, even corn and resin.
Reports said fake rice has found its way to Asian countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The cooked rice is said to last up to three weeks without spoiling.
The NFA this week conducted a surprise inspection of rice stores in Cartimar market in Pasay City following the reported proliferation of synthetic rice.
The NFA also asked the public to be vigilant and immediately report to the NFA hotline – 0906-4363133 – suspicious rice products in the market.
Dalisay, through a special order dated June 29, has ordered NFA inspectors nationwide to conduct daily inspection of rice stores.
The NFA office in Davao City received a complaint on June 26 from Carmencita Grinio of Matina Aplaya, who said she bought rice that had a styrofoam-like appearance.
Grinio said she purchased cooked rice from Ciudad Esperanza canteen in Cabantian, Davao City.
The canteen and its supposed rice supplier, Eliza Breta, denied selling synthetic rice, according to NFA spokesman Angel Imperial Jr.
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima bared yesterday her department will investigate the entry and sale of alleged fake rice from China.
De Lima said she received a directive from President Aquino to look into the issue and determine how the reportedly poisonous rice penetrated the local market and if there are people who could be held liable.
“I will constitute a task force to investigate that and coordinate with Sec. Kiko Pangilinan in his capacity as presidential assistant on food security and agricultural modernization,” she told reporters.
Malacañang, for its part, assured the public yesterday that the concerned government agencies are working together to verify the alleged presence of synthetic rice in the local market.
Presisential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the departments of health, trade and industry and agriculture – specifically the NFA – are conducting a thorough investigation on the presence of fake rice.
Coloma told anchor Rey Langit in his radio program “Kasangga mo ang Langit” over dwIZ that the government will not allow the health of the public to be put in danger because of the entry of foods that do not pass safety standards.
The NFA office in Negros Occidental, on the other hand, has so far not found any synthetic or fake rice being sold in the area.
NFA officials and personnel conducted a thorough inspection of rice retailers in Bacolod last Thursday, including those at the Burgos Public Market, Libertad Public Market and Downtown Central Market. – With Edu Punay, Delon Porcalla, Danny Dangcalan