Govt recalls new imported meat label rules amid furor


THE government will rescind its supplemental guidelines on labeling of imported meat products following concerns raised by certain industry groups that the new rules may cause shortages in the days leading up to the holidays because exporters were reportedly reluctant to ship to the Philippines on account of these.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar confirmed to the BusinessMirror that the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) will withdraw its recent Memorandum Circular (MC) 10-2021-038 that sent the meat importers sector worrying.

“I have now talked with NMIS and we decided that they withdraw the NMIS issuance,” he said via SMS on Sunday evening.

The meat processing industry group claimed that exporters were hesitating to ship meat products to the Philippines due to new rules stipulated in MC 10-2021-038, which could exacerbate the supply chain problems faced by the industry. Industry sources also confirmed the hesitancy from foreign suppliers pending clarity from the Philippines regarding the new rules.

In a series of letters to government authorities, the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (Pampi) claimed the NMIS’s latest circular on labeling caused problems with imported meat products, calling for its immediate suspension.

In a letter to NMIS Executive Director Jocelyn Salvador, Pampi said foreign suppliers “panicked and stopped loading shipments” upon learning of the agency’s latest circular dated October 26.

“All incoming shipments are now considered non-compliant under your new memorandum and therefore subject to confiscation by your agency upon arrival,” Pampi said in its letter dated October 28.

Pampi said the industry’s main problem with NMIS’s MC is the mandatory inclusion of three different dates on imported meat labels, instead of just two as stipulated in Department of Agriculture (DA) Administrative Order (AO) 26 series of 2005.

The new MC requires the following dates: 1) manufacture, 2) packaging and 3) minimum durability (best before or expiration date), since it made a distinction between manufacturing and packaging dates contrary to the guidelines of AO 26, the group claimed.

“Please note that the said AO states ‘date of manufacturing and packaging’, not dates of manufacturing and packaging”, it said.

“It is not for us to hazard an explanation on why AO 26 specified only two dates, but this has been in effect for more than 15 years,” it added.

Foreign meat exporters to the Philippines have been facing challenges this year since the NMIS started to amend the guidelines on labeling requirements. Changes in labeling information, particularly adding specific details, pose a logistical problem to exporters who have to create a label specific template for the Philippines, incurring additional costs.

Pampi and other industry sources told the BusinessMirror the Philippines will be the first and only country in the Asean region, at least, to require three dates for labels in non-retail containers.

Industry analysts closely monitoring the situation told the BusinessMirror that importing countries in the region only require one date, which is any of the following: a slaughter or production or packing date.

Pampi claimed in its letter it was not consulted by the NMIS in issuing the supplemental guidelines, contradicting the premise in the MC that the agency consulted industry players.

Industry sources told the BusinessMirror that the two big meat importing groups in the country —Pampi and Meat Importers and Traders Association (Mita)—were not consulted by the NMIS about MC-10-2021-038.

Even representatives of foreign meat exporting groups in the country and embassy representatives were not consulted, according to knowledgeable sources.

The NMIS MC claimed that it conducted dialogues with the stakeholders in issuing the supplemental guidelines.

Usurpation of authority

In a separate letter, Pampi brought to Secretary Dar’s attention their concerns about NMIS’s latest MC, calling it a usurpation of Dar’s authority since it effectively amended an existing AO issued by an agriculture secretary.

Pampi explained that the NMIS MC amended Section VII Item D-7 of AO 26 of 2005 on the date of manufacture and packaging.

“The effect on the trade has been immediate and alarming as exporters in the US, Canada and Brazil advised that they are holding back loading of hundreds of containers until the new NMIS memorandum is clarified and/or recalled,” the group said.

“Exporters fear that the shipments due for loading this week and thereafter are no longer compliant with the new labelling rule and therefore subject to NMIS confiscation upon arrival in December and January,” it added.

Pampi said the delayed shipments of meat products would “exacerbate” the “already desperate situation” of the country’s supply chain “arising from prolonged international marine traffic.”

“The circular is viewed by our trade partners as another non-tariff trade barrier foisted by NMIS on international trade under the guise of food safety,” it added.

The BusinessMirror sought Salvador’s comment for this story but the NMIS chief has not responded as of press time.

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