LGUs urged to enforce proper, truthful labeling in rice

DA-Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) urges local government units (LGUs) to enforce proper and truthful labeling in rice for consumers to differentiate locally-produced rice from imported and to strengthen Filipino rice farmers.

Alice B. Mataia, lead of PhilRice’s Policy Research and Advocacy project, recommended forming a local task force that would ensure that retailers consistently follow the correct standards in labeling.

She explained that specifying rice source in rice packages, box labels, and price tags will aid consumers who want safe and quality local rice to make easy choices.

“A PhilRice-IRRI study showed that Philippine rice recorded the least pesticide usage than the other rice-producing countries in Southeast Asia. With the LGUs enforcing existing guidelines on labeling of rice boxes and price tags through an ordinance or a resolution, we help consumers exercise their power to choose,” Alice B. Mataia, the team lead said.

Mataia, an economist, further explained that demand for local rice may spur when more consumers are able to spot local rice and choose to buy it over imported ones, which will encourage rice traders to source their supply from local farmers.

Also, a way of promoting locally-produced rice, truthful labeling in rice entails putting valid, reliable, and complete information about the milling classification and source of rice in sacks/packages, rice boxes, or price tags based on prescribed labeling standards.

According to Mataia, guidelines on rice labeling exist since 2018, which was issued by the National Food Authority (NFA) and specified in the 2019 Philippine National Standards on Grains Grading and Classification. The Rice Tariffication Law, however, repeals NFA’s regulatory functions including its role to enforce the national grains standard.

She also noted that while the Bureau of Plant Industry took charge of NFA’s functions through inspections and issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances (SPSICs), it does not cover the implementation of labeling guidelines in rice.

She also said that retailer compliance to the Philippine National Standards on rice labeling and price tagging is voluntary.

“The system glitches on who-should-do-what in implementing labeling guidelines have resulted in some traders opting to not comply with the guidelines. Some retailers fail to meet the basic minimum standard and disregard milling grade and source in price tags,” she said.

Presently, Mataia said that there are traders who still include the rice brands while some allegedly mix imported and local rice or different rice grades to command higher prices, which are prohibited under RA 7394 or the Consumer Act of the Philippines. # # # (DA-PhilRice) 

DA invests P80M to mass-produce ASF test kits

As part of the current nationwide biosecurity and surveillance program, aptly called “BABay ASF” (Bantay ASF sa Barangay), the Department of Agriculture (DA) is initially allotting P80 million (M) for the development and mass production of Filipino-made test kits that can detect the dreaded African Swine Fever (ASF) faster and cheaper.

“We are allocating an initial P80 million through the DA-National Livestock Program (NLP) and Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) to mass-produce and distribute to local government units (LGUs) the test kit, called “ASFV Nanogold Biosensor,” said Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

“We commend the team from the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in partnership with the DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) who developed the ASF rapid test kit,” the DA chief added.

Secretary Dar said part of the P80-M budget for the “BABay ASF” program will be provided by the DA-Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) to augment the mass production of test kits in partnership with other interested private firms and state universities and colleges (SUCs).

The CLSU-BAI team will soon acquire robotic equipment to efficiently mass-produce the test kit, said DA-NLP overseer and DA Undersecretary for Livestock Dr. William Medrano. Secretary Dar tasked him and the DA-NLP team to pursue discussions with SUCs and pharmaceutical companies to help mass-produce the ASF test kits.

“With this development, the DA-BAI personnel and LGU veterinarians can now administer the kit for biosecurity measures, profiling of farms for repopulation, and surveillance and monitoring activities, at a much faster rate right at the so-called ‘ground-zero’ and more economical,” the DA chief said.

“We can even have these test kits on standby at the port of entries for a quick sampling of the meat products entering the country,” he added.

The kit was developed by Dr. Clarissa Yvonne Domingo of CLSU, in collaboration with the DA-BAI, noting that the test kits are easy to use and can differentiate ASF virus from hog cholera and other swine-related viruses.

The rapid test kits utilize nucleic acid-based test. It has a built-in DNA extraction and molecular amplification process that utilizes primers or markers, whose gene sequence was designed from the P72 gene of the ASF virus isolated from the province of Rizal.

In fact, it can detect the presence of ASF even through surface swabbing of pig barns and delivery trucks, saliva, and nasal swabs, feces, water, semen, feeds, aspirated whole blood, or blood-soaked swabs, and even domestic flies.

The ASF test kit, which comes with all the consumables, costs P3,500, good for 10 samples or P350 per sample.

Furthermore, each sample can be a pool of five surface swabs, saliva, or feces as long as these come from the same pen or farm for traceability. Thus, the cost is simply P70 per sample.

To ensure efficacy, the test kits were tested on surface swabs taken from nipple drinkers, walls, railings, floors, and pig ways of barns; water samples of farms; ASF contaminated floor sweepings and feeds; saliva, nasal swabs, and feces of pigs; processed, fresh and canned meat that were confiscated at the airport and domestic flies that alighted on dead carcasses.

It was also tested in 32 commercial and nine backyard farms in Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan, and Nueva Ecija.

Preliminary results showed high accuracy and detection rate using the test kits. For its part, the DA-BAI offers free ASF testing, while private laboratories charge about P3,000 per test.

Results of BAI laboratory tests for priority areas can be obtained within the day, but analysis usually takes two working days.

Meanwhile, upon learning that Vietnam has developed a vaccine against ASF, he instructed undersecretary Medrano to immediately coordinate with their counterparts in said country and acquire the vaccine for clinical and field tests in the country. ### (Patrick Lesaca, DA StratComms) _

Agri dep’t seeks to increase 2021 rice production by one-MMT

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is looking at a one million metric ton (MMT) increment in rice production for the current year to attain a national yield of 20.4MMT.

This was announced by Agriculture Secretary William Dar over the weekend during a visit at the International Training Center for Pig Husbandry (ITCPH) in Tanauan City, Batangas.

For 2021, the Secretary said that the goal is to reach 95 percent rice sufficiency level.

“Last year, despite perfect storm which includes the eruption of Taal Volcano, the Covid-19 pandemic, the African Swine Fever, and the series of typhoons, the country managed to attain a 19.4MMT national yield. Pinakamataas sa history ng rice production sa bansa,” he said.

Secretary Dar noted that the import level is starting to go down as local production continues to grow with interventions and assistance for seeds, fertilizer, and capacity building.

The DA chief added that the agri sector posted positive growth in 2020 because of the efforts and sacrifices of the farmers, fishers, and other stakeholders.

This year, under the “One DA” holistic approach, the DA will continue to roll out projects to empowers farmers towards food secure and resilient Philippines.

He added that under “One DA,” which follows 12 key strategies, the DA will push for the swift and efficient implementation of initiatives for the benefit of many.

“Sa ilalim ng One DA, pagbubuklurin ang mga serbisyo at programa ng DA para mas madaming magawa at mabilis na maisakatuparan ang mga proyekto ng panahalaan para sa ikabubuti ng buhay at kabuhayan ng mga magsasaka, mangingisda at mga nagnenegosyo sa sektor ng agrikultura,” he said.

While in Tanauan, Secretary Dar led the distribution of P205 million-worth of agricultural projects and interventions to farmer-beneficiaries of Batangas province.

The assistance included P75M in credit assistance from the DA-Agricultural Credit Policy Council. Indemnity checks amounting to P1.08M were also awarded to farmers affected by the Taal volcano eruption last year. ### (Adora Rodriguez, DA-AFID)