JUST as the Department of Agriculture (DA) is moving to implement a suggested retail price (SRP) system on farm products, it is now mulling over, as well, imposing labelling and packaging requirements on rice products in the market to ensure food safety.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said the DA is now scrutinizing some of the current practices in rice trade, including the way the staple is packaged and labelled by retailers and millers.
The imposition of a labelling requirement on rice products would aid the DA’s monitoring in its implementation of SRP on the staple, which is slated to start next week, Piñol said.
“We are now reviewing from the policy side of DA the practice of rice retailers in the industry wherein they will just put-up all sorts of tags to their rice like blue diamond, long grain. We’re doing to it to justify pricing,” Piñol told reporters in a recent interview.
“It should be properly labelled [based on its variety] like, is it well-milled, regular-milled or fancy rice? So we can regulate the price,” Piñol added.
The agriculture chief is cognizant that the rice market enjoys a free trade environment, but argued that players “cannot just allow anybody to claim whatever” brand they want on their products.
“This is what the President is saying during our last Cabinet meeting about truth in advertising,” Piñol said. “For example, if this is denorado variety, then it should be true to its price.”
Furthermore, Piñol said they are also considering requiring rice millers and retailers to package their products with proper labelling and weight indication. This measure ensures the food safety of rice, as the staple is merely sold in open boxes in the market, according to Piñol.
“In the context of ensuring food safety, we are even looking at implementing in the future a system where rice should not be sold in open boxes in stalls. It is not hygienic,” he said.
“What if a buyer coughs, then the virus gets into the rice. What if a leper touches the rice?” he added.
One of the measures that the DA is looking into is requiring rice retailers and millers to package their products in 1-kilogram, 2-kilogram, 5-kilogram weight variations, according to Piñol.
Having such a requirement, he added, “will allow us to have a traceability [system]. We would know from what specific rice mill this product came from.”
Food Safety Act
Piñol said the measure will not be implemented right away but it will be a key policy direction in terms of food safety. Piñol said they will leverage the Food Safety Act of 2013 as basis for this packaging and labelling requirement.
The Food Safety Act of 2013 makes it the DA’s responsibility to ensure food safety in the “primary production and post-harvest stages of the food-supply chain and locally produced or imported” products.
“The DA shall be responsible for the development and enforcement of food safety standards and regulations for food in the primary production and postharvest stages of the food supply chain,” Section 16 of the law states.
“It shall monitor and ensure that the relevant requirements of the law are complied with by farmers, fisherfolk and food-business operators,” it added.
The Food Safety Act also cites the need for a traceability system in the country’s food chain.
“Traceability shall be established for foods at relevant stages of production, post harvest handling, processing or distribution, when needed to ensure compliance with food-safety requirements,” it read.
“The rule on traceability shall also cover production inputs such as feeds, food additives, ingredients, packaging materials and other substances expected to be incorporated into a food or food product,” it added.