By Manuel Cayon, August 4 2019; Business Mirror

Image Credit to Business Mirror

DAVAO CITY—Japan has reported yet another breach of its quarantine regulation by a banana shipper from the Philippines in July, raising apprehension anew that Tokyo may impose stricter measures against Philippine banana shipments and scale down its preference over the homegrown fruit.

The Philippine agriculture attaché in Japan, Samuel B. Animas, told the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) that he was informed on July 10, 2019, by Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW) of “another violation [of the minimum residue limit] committed by the Federation of Cooperatives [Fedco] in Mindanao.”

Fedco, along other small banana growers, is among the farmer-beneficiaries of the government’s agrarian reform program. It is, likewise, a distinct and separate organization of banana growers from the PBGEA that groups together the big Filipino and foreign banana plantation owners in Mindanao.

No response yet

The breach was reportedly detected while the MHLW was still to respond to the report of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) regarding the latter’s action that would ensure compliance by Filipino banana growers to the minimum residue limit (MRL) on banana exports.

Japan raised its reaction to one shipment from the Philippines in August last year that showed a shipment exceeded the allowable presence of the insecticide called fipronil, whose residue had gone beyond the MRL limit imposed by Japan’s MLHW, even as it has further reduced its MRL on fipronil, from 0.01 parts per million to 0.005 ppm.

The PBGEA has requested Animas to arrange a meeting with its key officers and those of MHLW, but the attaché said the Japanese ministry may not be inclined to meet with PBGEA, owing to its private status.

Animas said in its correspondence on July 16, 2019, with PBGEA Executive Director Stephen A. Antig, a chance meeting may likely happen in the Philippines when the MHLW “expressed [its] intention to visit the Philippines after the evaluation of the June 28 documents submitted by BPI.”

“Maybe that would be a good time for you to meet them,” Animas added.

However, the Fedco incident may affect the chance of pushing through with the meeting, he said. “So far, I have not heard anything yet from the MHLW regarding the matter,” Animas said.

He informed Antig that BPI submitted its report to MHLW only on June 28, two months after 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.”

MHLW inquiry

That time, Culaste disclosed 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 added 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,” Culaste said earlier in his April letter to PBGEA.

He said the BPI’s Plant Product Safety Services Division and the National Plant Quarantine Services Division had already instituted corrective measures with the issuance of the new banana export protocol, notably on the aspect of food safety.

Kept in the dark?

Antig has raised its concern that “unless we would be the one to ask for an update from the DA [Department of Agriculture], no one from the agency would also care to inform us of the development of the case.”

“We are deeply concerned because for the meantime that this MRL issue is not settled, our shipment from all groups, not only from PBGEA, would be subject to 100-percent inspection, unlike before that August 2018 incident [when] Japan would only take a few samples,” Antig said.

It would mean additional expense for Filipino shippers with a higher inspection fee, from P13,000 per sample to P15,000 per sample “and for whatever number of samples Japan would want to inspect”.

“That’s is why, we are calling on government to appoint a new agriculture secretary [who] would be genuinely concerned [with] our situation,” Antig said. “Government should acknowledge that banana is one high-value crop export that has a high potential to contribute more to the gross domestic product and to generate more employment.”