Traders worry over label rules for meat imports


The government’s strict enforcement of labeling requirements for meat products, which led to the seizure of some meat shipments, caught importers off guard, according to industry sources.

The National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) issued memorandum circular (MC) 07-2021-018, which reiterated the “strict” implementation of the “minimum labeling requirements for imported meat.”

Under the MC, the NMIS reminded meat importers that shipments of imported meat shall comply with the minimum labeling requirements set by Department of Agriculture Administrative Order (AO) 26 series of 2005 and AO 24 series of 2010.

The circular from NMIS indicated that the phrase “expiration date” must be written in bold letters.

“Imported meat inappropriately labeled based on the requirements shall be seized, subject for confiscation and disposal. For strict compliance,” according to the MC, which was signed by NMIS Executive Director Jocelyn A. Salvador.

Industry sources told the BusinessMirror that some shipments are already being held by the government since the memorandum circular took effect last week.

“Since the order came up, shipments are being held by the authorities but these are not yet destroyed,” Meat Importers and Traders Association (MITA) President Jesus C. Cham told the BusinessMirror.

Cham said his group has already raised concerns about the “sudden” implementation of the MC with the NMIS. MITA is urging the agency to consider a transition period since in-transit shipments would be affected by the new MC.

Cham said he told the NMIS that AO 26 series of 2005 itself allows for rectification of the label even after arriving in the country. Due to this, Cham said he proposed to the NMIS to amend certain parts of the MC 07-2021-018 that would give importers elbow to correct labels.

The MITA chief said the NMIS will look into the matter. Salvador did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are making a representation to the DA that AO 26 allows for rectification of the label. So, they should reword the order. [They should] not say condemn and destroy, [they should] change the language [showing] there will be room [for rectification],” he said.

Section XI of AO 26 series of 2005 stipulated that imported meat and meat products held in abeyance under the supervision of DA could be released and utilized if the consignee complies with the minimum labeling requirements mandated under the said order.

The implementation of the memorandum circular has also forced exporters to temporarily suspend shipments to the Philippines pending the results of a dialogue among all the concerned parties.

The United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service in Manila has published a report “strongly advising” US meat exporters to “work closely with their local importer to ensure that expiry or best before dates are included in the labels.”

“This is already a great cause of concern abroad since some containers are already in transit and they are worried that the shipments will be held upon arrival,” Cham said.

The situation further delays the arrival of meat products since some exporters have decided to temporarily stop sending goods to the Philippines, Cham and other industry sources told the BusinessMirror.

The additional costs incurred by the importers, whose shipments were kept in cold storage facilities, may be passed on to consumers.

Cham and other industry sources said that prior to the implementation of MC 07-2021-018, the shelf life declaration or expiration date disclosure is just being added to the label before the certificate of meat inspection is issued by the NMIS.

Moving forward, he said meat importers will comply with the minimum labeling requirements set by the NMIS since the regulation is anchored on food safety-related domestic laws.

However, Cham said the mandatory inclusion of the shelf life or expiration date of the imported products would entail additional costs since the requirement is not imposed by some exporting countries.

Cham noted that countries like the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand do not require shelf life declaration or labeling for their exports.

In the US, for instance, manufacturers/producers of meat, poultry and egg products, may voluntarily indicate shelf life dates for their products provided that they are labeled “in a manner that is truthful and not misleading” and in compliance with Food Safety and Inspection Service regulations.

“It would entail some additional cost [like printing costs],” an industry source told the BusinessMirror.

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