Traders worry over label rules for meat imports

- By Jasper Emmanuel Y. Arcalas @jearcalas

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 intransit 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 072021-018 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 07-2021018, 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 safetyrela­ted 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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