USDA warns Phl against imposing measures to protect local meat sector
- Marianne V. Go () - June 27, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has warned the Philippines against imposing protectionist measures on imported frozen meat imports.

This was disclosed to The STAR by Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala as the DA continues consultation with members of the Meat Importers and Traders Association (MITA) and Philippine Association of Meat Processors (PAMPI) regarding Administrative Order 22 which imposes strict guidelines on the sale of imported frozen meats.

Even the Joint Foreign Chambers, which attended the consultation Friday, June 24, at the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) office in Quezon City, added its complaint against protectionism by the Philippines.

MITA, particularly, has been disputing the allegations regarding the safety and increase in frozen meats in the local markets, including in the public wet markets.

According to Alcala, the DA continues to review the matter even as the USDA, in a recent consultation, warned him against increasing protectionism on imported frozen meats.

Alcala said that he assured the USDA representatives that the Philippines is only adhering to safety protocols which the USDA has been kind enough to help the Philippines with.

MITA president Jesus Cham, in a separate interview with The STAR, has said a 40 percent to 50 percent drop in frozen meat imports following the issuance of AO 22.

The drop in frozen meat imports, however, Cham was quick to qualify is also due to a rise in prices.

Unfortunately, Cham pointed out, demand remains high and local meat processors, in particular, are now hard pressed to keep prices of processed meat down.

He said that processed meat prices may have to go up by 30 percent.

MITA has argued that all legally imported meat are sourced from foreign meat establishments (FMEs) that are HACCP certified and export their products all over the world including the Philippines.

MITA added that “it is unreasonable and unscientific to claim that the products that are deemed ‘safe’ in other countries are ‘unsafe’ in the Philippines.”

MITA further countered that FMEs are accredited by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the NMIS.

The meat, the MITA vouched, come with International Health Certificates issued by the exporting country.

Once in the Philippines, MITA pointed out, the imported frozen meat is subject to BAI quarantine clearance and NMIS food safety inspection.

Furthermore, MITA said, the meat is stored in duly accredited cold storages under the supervision of NMIS.

The handling of the meat, however, MITA acknowledged is dependent on the handler.

Most importers, MITA pointed out, deliver the products to their customers rock-frozen and are not involved in its thawing or repacking.

MITA added that “importers are more cognizant of proper handling procedures than meat vendors.”

In fact, MITA pointed out, local meat may be considered more “unsafe” than processed frozen imported meats which follow strict processing and temperature requirements as opposed to local slaughterhouses where the hogs are slaughtered at ambient temperature and are not transported and sold at the wet markets at the same ambient temperature almost the whole day.

The microbiological guidelines for bacterial count set by the international food agency Codex Alimentarius are minimum less than 500,000 and maximum less than 10,000,000.

This means that if the meat had one single bacterium at midnight, by 11.45 a.m it would have multiplied to more than 10 million and gone beyond the recommended range.

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