MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines will start implementing stricter measures on the entry of imported rice amid the deluge of the commodity brought about by the liberalization of the industry.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said he has signed the memorandum circular that seeks to impose more stringent requirements for rice bought outside the country.
“We will continue to be strict and to elevate our measures before we issue the SPSIC (sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance). It has been there but we will intensify it,” Dar told reporters on the sidelines of the 11th World Rice Conference on Wednesday.
“This (issuance of SPSIC) is a continuing process, so it’s how they (trading partners) are able to respond to the very requirements before we issue the SPSIC. Especially during the harvest season, I really ordered to intensify so that only few will come in because it will affect our farmers,” he added.
The stricter measures will cover heavy metal content, pesticide residue level, extraneous and filth contaminants, as well as microbiological parameters.
It will put in place “food safety control measures for milled rice that can be used to prevent or eliminate food safety hazard or to reduce it to an acceptable level.”
It also wants to protect the public from “unsanitary, unwholesome, misbranded or adulterated food” and “enhance industry and consumer confidence in the food safety regulatory system.”
This developed as 50,000 concerned citizens signed a petition against the continuous rice importation amid the recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s report that the country would surpass China as the world’s biggest rice importer this year .
The petition was initiated by consumer group Bantay Bigas, Amihan or the National Federation of Peasant Women, Anakpawis party-list, Gabriela Women’s Party, National Food Authority Employees Association and Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Nueva Ecija (AMGL-NE).
“As the world’s top rice importer this year, poor farmers, consumers and various sectors submitted today 50,000 signatures for the ‘Petisyon ng Mamamayan para Ibasura ang Republic Act 11203 Rice Liberalization Law’ for submission to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and committee on agriculture and food chairperson Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga,” said Bantay Bigas in a statement released yesterday.
Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said the signatures were gathered in the rice producing provinces of Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Iloilo, Camarines Sur, Tarlac and Leyte and other provinces in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and even in Metro Manila.
She said at least 15 organizations of farmers, fishermen, women, urban poor, consumers and workers backed the petition.
Estavillo said Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas had filed a bill to repeal RA 11203.
Dar said the Philippines has formally written Thailand and Vietnam, the country’s major trading partners for rice, to inform them of the stricter measures.
“We are hoping for a positive response. There is an ASEAN collaboration principle that everyone has to reciprocate,” Dar said.
“We are not afraid of any trade disputes because we are after the food safety for every Filipino,” he added.
Over the last few months, data showed that the average monthly imports is at 245,000 metric tons and this has been decreased to about 85,000 MT as the government moves toward stricter measures.
Dar said they expect applications to be lesser especially now that the main harvest season is ongoing and with the signing of the memorandum circular.
The government has maintained that there is no inclination to repeal, revise or suspend the Rice Tariffication Law despite calls from stakeholders and even some lawmakers.
“Let us give the law a chance to be implemented properly, after some time if there will be some little adjustments to make it much more effective then that’s the period we shall revisit but the decision today is within now and the near future, let’s give the law a chance,” Dar said.
“This law is good not only for the farmers but also for the consumers even the agribusiness sector in general. There will always be birth pangs in any new law but the law itself has provided measures where farmers affected will be given support,” he added. – With Ding Cervantes
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