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Government urged to mobilize food inspection facilities in ports

AN advocacy group on Monday urged the national government to hasten the establishment of food inspection facilities in the country following reports of alleged excessive use of antibiotics by fish farms in China.

Tugon Kabuhayan, in a news statement, said the country’s major ports should also be inspected to ensure the quality and safety of imported produce consumed by millions of Filipinos.

“Overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of drug-resistant superbugs in the long run. This is a food safety concern that needs to be addressed since we import from countries like China,” the group said.

“We must emphasize that we shouldn’t discriminate in terms of inspection and testing. All imported fish and other food items, for that matter, should be tested for antibiotics and diseases, regardless of their country of origin,” it added.

In 2019, the group said the Philippines imported almost P9 billion worth of fish, mollusks and aquatic invertebrates from China. These include species like pompano, baby shrimps and tilapia.

“We cannot risk our people consuming possibly contaminated imported fish and other food products,” the group added.

Tugon Kabuhayan has cited a report from the South China Morning Post showing a research undertaken by Peking University professor Wen Donghui in a paper published in the journal Marine Environmental Science this month.

The report said that “data collected from many locations along China’s 32,000-kilometer  coastline in recent years suggested that antibiotics were building up at an alarming pace and were being found in fish and other forms of marine life.”

“The use of antibiotics in off-shore farms is subject to less stringent regulations than on land because of the common belief that the huge body of ocean water can dilute the drugs,” the report stated.

The report added that, “In waters near some farms in Guangdong and in the Bohai Sea, for instance, the concentration of antibiotics could reach more than 2 micrograms per liter of sea water. That was equivalent to dropping 20,000 penicillin pills into a standard swimming pool [250 mg/pill].”

Prohibited antibiotics like fulfathiaole, chloramphenicol and erythromycin were detected in the waters, which may also indicate that the farmers in China may have used antibiotics in violation of regulations. While these antibiotics might not cause immediate harm, “the combined effect of different types of antibiotics remains poorly understood and requires further investigation,” said the researchers.

While Tugon Kabuhayan recognized the Department of Agriculture’s commitment to build the country’s first Agriculture Commodity Examination Area (ACEA), it said there is an urgent need for its construction and operation.

“We commend the DA for allocating budget for the border inspection facilities, but we hope other agencies like the Philippine Ports Authority would approve it with dispatch,” the group added.

“The industry is always ready to support government’s initiatives especially when it comes to food safety, in any way it can. In the absence of first border inspection, perhaps the government can consider accrediting third-party testing centers to do the job,” it said.

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