Initiatives on putting up meat quarantine facilities in key entry points in the country are “on track,” the Department of Agriculture (DA), refuting allegations that it failed to set up enough meat inspection facilities.
“The construction of the country’s first border inspection facility is still on track, but certain barriers [are] yet to be addressed following government requirements and procedures,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a statement late Friday.
“While waiting for the facility, the department adopts a stringent two-stage inspection process upon entry of imported agricultural commodities into the country. This is a science-based regulatory procedure that we strictly follow both for local and international shipment of agricultural products,” he added.
The statement comes after farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) accused it of not stopping meat imports that reportedly affected local meat prices.
An attached agency of the DA, the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), said its quarantine officers conduct initial ocular inspections at any port of entry, after which a “more rigorous” examination is conducted at cold storage facilities accredited by the National Meat Inspection Service.
This ensures the safety of agricultural commodities entering the country, it added.
Like Dar, BAI Director Ronnie Domingo also cited legal and logistcal barriers facing the planned inspection facility — to be built at the Port of Manila — which he said needed to be hurdled.
“Building a government structure in a privately operated congested port area is not an overnight task to accomplish. The identification of a 2,000-square meter area for the ACEA (agriculture commodity examination area) will be settled soonest,” he added.
The DA is also busy hiring project members to finalize the detailed architectural and engineering designs required by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), so that allotted funds for the ACEA would be released.
“Although the concept designs have already been done, the DBM needs the detailed designs to effect fund release,” Domingo said.
Once built, the facility would be a one-stop shop for regulatory inspections of imported agricultural product, and a common facility for the BAI, as well as the Bureau of Plant Industry and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, to prevent animal, fish and plant diseases from entering the country.
The proposal to build the facility was approved in principle during a December 2019 Cabinet meeting. It has a budget of P521.57 million.
Meanwhile, the BAI has started laying the groundwork for the establishment of other ACEA facilities at the international ports of Subic, Batangas, Cebu and Davao.
To address smuggled pork, the Bureau of Customs and several other agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen border control and protection. Countries intending to export agricultural products to the Philippines must submit to a strict accreditation procedure to ensure its compliance with national standards and regulations.
The DA would impose an import ban on any country with reported pest outbreaks.
“The DA assures the public of its support to the implementation of the Food Safety Act of 2013, including the provisions for the ‘quarantine first policy’ to ensure that agricultural products in the country are safe, hygienic and fit for consumption of every Filipino family,” Dar said.
Formally known as Republic Act 10611, the Food Safety Act aims to strengthen the food safety regulatory system in the country to protect consumer health and facilitate market access of local foods and food products, among others.