Freeman Cebu Business

Linked to raw scallops from Philippines: Seafood exporters bear brunt of Hepatitis A outbreak in Hawaii

Ehda M. Dagooc - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - Seafood exporters in Cebu continue to bear the brunt of the issue on contaminated scallops despite having been cleared by the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Philexport-Cebu president and seafood exporter Nelson Bascones said seafood exporters are now experiencing a weak demand from its major markets in the United States after a Hepatitis A outbreak in Hawaii was linked to raw scallops believed to be from the Philippines.

Last month, the Hawaii Department of Health announced that lab tests conducted by the  US Food and Drug Administration found hepatitis A in the frozen Sea Port Bay Scallops produced by De Oro Resources Inc., of Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu.

Bascones, who also owns Central Seafoods Inc., which exports large volume of fresh and processed scallops and other seafood products mostly to the United States, said that although only scallops had been identified to have been contaminated, the entire seafood market is affected by the issue.

He added that as a result, his company now has 500 thousand pounds of scallops products stuck in the United States today.

There are more than 10 seafood exporters based in Cebu, all of which are now suffering from declining orders or weak market interest from the overseas customers, he said.

Markets for shrimp and other seafood products are still moving, but companies are on slow operational level, because of weaker demand.

Following the emerging threats to seafood safety which pose serious risks to human health, BFAR as the food safety regulatory agency of fish and fishery products vested with authority by the Food Safety Act of 2013, already implemented emergency measures, re-assessing, re-evaluating, and conducting traceability audit of De Oro Resources, Inc.

Pending the on-going traceability audit, BFAR is temporarily suspending the accreditation of De Oro Resources, Inc. to export fishery products.

BFAR has likewise directed the company to suspend the distribution of its existing inventory of fishery products and to recall all previously distributed products belonging to the same batch or of the same distribution period.

The said emergency measures are implemented to arrest possible contamination of the virus, if the same truly exists as established by the thorough assessment and investigation on the matter

The Philippines has a long tradition of exporting quality scallops dating back to year 1976.

In 2014, 826, 177 kilograms of scallops valued at US$6.0 million were exported to  Hongkong, Japan, Korea, United States, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Initiatives to implement the Philippine Seafood Traceability Program since 2013 have increased demand for Philippine seafood products notably in the European Union, and the rest of the world.

"Confident of the seafood safety management system in place, we are deeply concerned upon receiving alert notification from the U.S. that Philippine scallops have been linked to Hepatitis A Virus (HAV) outbreak in Hawaii," BFAR said.

Bascones said that BFAR is also equally implementing strict regulations now on other seafood products, tightening its Hazard Analysis, Critical Control Point (HACCP) for all seafood products. (FREEMAN)

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