Gov't agrees to test Chinese luncheon meat for safety

by CARMELA FONBUENA, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Oct 07 2008 06:52 PM | Updated as of Oct 08 2008 08:39 AM

In response to growing consumers' concern on the safety of food products from China, the head of the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) announced Tuesday that the agency will also test for melamine two brands of luncheon meat coming from China .

“We are going to conduct tests because of the apprehension on canned meat, so that we know for sure--just to assure the public,” lawyer Jane Bacayo, executive director of the NMIS, said in a joint hearing of the House committees on agriculture and health on toxic food imports.

Bacayo said they have collected from the market samples of two luncheon meat brands— Shanghai Food Products’ Ma-ling, and Cofco Food Ltd.’s luncheon meat.

Luncheon meat is the only canned meat from China allowed by the NMIS to be imported to the Philippines. These two are the only accredited brands.

“Other products are not authorized to enter the Philippines. If they are in public market, they are smuggled,” Bacayo said.

The two milk brands found last October 3 by BFAD to be contaminated with melamine--Greenfood Yili Fresh Milk and Mengnui Drink-- were not registered with BFAD, which suggests that they were smuggled into the country.

Previously, ensuring safety of all food, food products, and drugs was the sole responsibility of the BFAD. But under Republic Act 9296, the duty to ensure safety of meat and meat products was transferred from BFAD to the NMIS. Other products remain to be the responsibility of BFAD.

For BFAD and NMIS, testing for melamine is not part of the routine testing. The harmful substance is not allowed to be mixed with food products.

“There is no reason why they should place melamine in canned meat,” Bacayo said.

When the melamine scare erupted, the BFAD had to research, confirm, and validate the procedure in testing  the milk brands for melamine. This delayed BFAD from releasing results of its tests.

“Now that we have established procedure, we are now continuously analyzing samples,” said Joyce Carunay, chief of BFAD's product safety division.

Bacayo said they will communicate with BFAD so they can use BFAD-accredited private laboratories to help them in testing the luncheon meat brands.

“We have the laboratory but I admit we also lack necessary personnel,” Bacayo said.