2019News

Bananas in limbo

By Manuel Cayon, April 14 2019; Business Mirror

https://businessmirror.com.ph/2019/04/14/bananas-in-limbo/

Image Credit to Business Mirror

DAVAO CITY—The Japanese government has yet to receive a satisfactory assurance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) on how the latter intends to comply with the minimum residue limit (MRL) for banana exports after Tokyo red-flagged a shipment of the home-grown fruit last year allegedly found containing an excess amount of a certain chemical.

This was the latest information relayed by the Philippine embassy in Tokyo and the country’s agriculture attaché in Japan. Japan reportedly “reacted strongly” to the presence of the insecticide called fipronil in the red-flagged shipment, the residue of which exceeded that of Japan’s MRL.

Japan, meanwhile, has further reduced and tightened its MRL on fipronil, from 0.01 parts per million (ppm) to 0.005 ppm.

The incident happened in August last year, and while the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said it appreciated the response of the DA “to mitigate further violation of Japan’s MRL on fipronil and other active chemical ingredients, it baffles us why the issue has not been resolved yet after seven months since the first detection in August.”

Inaction?

A PBGEA letter sent to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez on March 22 suspected that the DA “sat” on the documents required by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

Stephen A. Antig, PBGEA executive director, said Japan has required the 100-percent mandatory testing of Philippine bananas since the August incident, consequently delaying the release of the Philippine bananas to the markets in Japan.

Japan’s health ministry has required the Philippine government, specifically the DA, to submit the protocol for export to Japan. The DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and the Plant Quarantine Services (PQS) were assigned to submit the protocol.

Antig said the protocol was already completed by the agencies and with the collaboration of the PBGEA “four weeks ago,” or sometime in early March.

“At this point in time, we are kept in limbo due to the inaction of the DA,” the PBGEA said in its letter to Dominguez.

On March 20, or two days before the PBGEA wrote Dominguez, the organization also wrote Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol enumerating the four comments of Japan’s health ministry as to the issue of the nonsubmission of the protocol.

The PBGEA said the Japanese ministry has received the reports and results of the BPI’s audit “on certain companies,” but it said the ministry officials would like to have the “formatted report that outlines the investigations of the violations and the countermeasures taken/to be taken by both the concerned exporters and the BPI.”

It also noted the monitoring system for exporting bananas conducted by BPI, but it said the system “is unclear” to the ministry.

“They received the list of audited companies that are compliant exporters to Japan, but they have not received any report on the process how the companies were audited and selected to be on the list,” PBGEA said.

“[Japan’s] MHLW [Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare] seems to be confused on the multiple updated versions of the protocol presented to them. They want to receive the latest/final and the approved version of the protocol. MHLW would like to know the official contact person from the Philippine government,” PBGEA said, enumerating Japan’s ministry’s concern.

Antig said the PBGEA has arranged for a study tour and discussion with different research and development and quality assurance officers of PBGEA’s member companies with the ministry’s officials.

“However, the reply of the MHLW was that although they appreciate the extra effort, they prefer not to entertain any meetings with the PBGEA until the Philippine government, particularly the Department of Agriculture, shows concrete steps to address the MRL problem, not only with the submission of a revised protocol for export of bananas to Japan, but with the verifiable preventive measures like laboratory tests in the Philippines,” the PBGEA said.

DA’s reply

On April 3, Acting BPI Director George Y. Culaste said the “answer to the latest comments of MHLW is ready for submission to the Japan Embassy in Manila.”

He said his office already received 13 notifications from the Japanese ministry.

“Although most detections are not from PBGEA members, it is very difficult to convince the MHLW that the corrective measures are deemed sufficient to lift the 100-percent mandatory MRL testing.” Culaste said the ministry has continued to raise questions on BPI’s report.

“For this new banana export protocol, the reason for the several revisions is that we have been incorporating your comments and giving this due consideration,” he added.

“It is with deep regret that you consider the BPI’s efforts as lacking in assisting the industry in dealing with the issue. We are very much aware that it had been seven months since the first detection in August and yet this issue has not been resolved,” he said.

Culaste said the BPI, Plant Product Safety Services Division and the National Plant Quarantine Services Division instituted corrective measures with the issuance of the new banana export protocol, which now incorporated food safety.

“However, our resources at BPI cannot meet up to the needs of the huge banana industry, hence, we rely heavily on monitoring and the premise that licensed exporters, packing facilities and registered growers are indeed compliant to the protocol,” Culaste added.

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