RP tuna industry pleads case with EU on lead levels in fish
- Rocel Felix () - July 19, 2006 - 12:00am
The local tuna industry will ask the European Union (EU) to reconsider its move to change the current regulation on lead levels in fish, saying the move effectively discriminates tuna exports from the Philippines.

The EU, the world’s largest importer of agricultural and fishery products from Southeast Asian countries said recently it would raise the maximum allowable lead content in tuna and other fishery exports to 0.03 parts per million. The Philippines and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) want to maintain the lead content level at 0.05 ppm, while the EU is insisting on 0.02 ppm.

"The industry is very unhappy with the EU decision. The new level is no different from the minimum allowable level of 0.02 ppm. It is just as difficult. We have to insist that the allowable range of 0.02 ppm to 0.05 ppm be followed. Otherwise, they are just blocking our tuna exports," said Francisco Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines (TCAP).

Buencamino explained that under the existing standards of the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) the allowable lead content in tuna and other fishery products is from 0.02 ppm to 0.05 ppm. CAC is the international body tasked with developing a food code known as the Codex Alimentarius or Codex, the global reference point for harmonized or uniform food standards to ensure the protection of public health and fair practices in food trade.

"Why is the EU insisting on deviating from standards that are used worldwide? It is nothing but a technical trade barrier and intended to protect the likes of Spain," said Buencamino.

In the EU, Spain and Italy which account for 65 percent and 19 percent of the EU tuna canning industry are opposing other sources of tuna and its variants.

Previously, minister-counselor of the health and food safety delegation of the European Commission to Thailand Patrick Deboyser said the EU is "looking at evidence that it would be a real challenge for tuna exporters from the ASEAN region to be able to comply with a lower allowable lead content in tuna."

"Lead content is a big issue among EU member countries. Tuna exporters will have to be very convincing in presenting proof that there is real difficulty in complying with the 0.02 ppm level, the EU cannot be expected to treat this matter lightly," stressed Deboyser.

Food Development Center Director Dr. Alicia Lustre, who represents the Philippines government in the Codex Committee on Food Additives and Contaminants (CCFAC) of the World Trade Organization’s CAC pointed out the more rigid lead content level is a real threat to the Philippines‚ $400-million tuna industry. She said the EU’s move will displace the Philippine tuna industry, the bulk of which is located in General Santos City in Southern Mindanao.

Currently, tuna catch in General Santos City is about 1,000 metric tons daily and earns export revenues of about $400 million annually. It is the leading supplier of canned tuna, high value sashimi tuna and tuna steaks to the Japanese, European and American markets. Six out of eight tuna canneries nationwide are located in this city.

The EU and US markets account for about 75 percent of world tuna consumption. The EU market accounts for 42 percent of the country’s tuna exports and comprises 49 percent of canned tuna exports.

The EU has been pressuring the CCFAC to impose this year, a new maximum allowable lead content of 0.02 ppm from 0.05 ppm. EU settled with 0.03 ppm.

Lustre said however, this is not feasible at this point for Philippine tuna which contains an average lead content of 0.05 ppm. The same level is present in tuna exports from Thailand and other ASEAN countries.

"Over the long-term, countries such as the Philippines opposing the EU initiative should ensure that maximum levels for contaminants in fish are derived from agreed science-based procedures for their establishment and that these levels are not developed for use as a barrier to trade," added Lustre.

Lustre noted that at this point, there is no internationally validated method of lead testing in fish.

Earlier, JECFAC already issued its opinion and said that the levels of lead that are found currently in foods would have negligible effects on the neurobehavioral development of infants and children.

Lustre noted that despite the JECFAC findings, the CCFAC failed to consider this fact in Codex deliberations for the current proposed maximum lead content in tuna.

ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS BUENCAMINO CODEX ALIMENTARIUS CODEX ALIMENTARIUS COMMISSION CODEX COMMITTEE CONTENT GENERAL SANTOS CITY LEAD PPM TUNA
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