Tuna industry braces for EU food safety audit

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/2 March) – Preparations have started for the food safety audit the European Union will conduct on the local tuna industry in a bid to retain the Philippines as an exporter of fisheries product to the vast market of the 27-member bloc.

Sani Macabalang, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources regional director for Southwestern Mindanao, said that experts from the European Commission – Food Veterinary Office are set to conduct the audit on June 13 to 24.

“We have already gathered at least 50 fisheries exporters to explain the food safety audit [of the EU] and the requirements that they should comply,” he said in a statement.

Macabalang said among the requirements the exporters need to comply are the standard on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) and the traceability system that the EU imposed last year in line with the illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing campaign.

The official noted that the local tuna industry is a significant player to the country’s fisheries output since majority of EU- and other nations-bound fisheries products come from this city.

This city, dubbed the “Tuna Capital of the Philippines,” hosts six of the country’s seven tuna canneries, whose major market also includes the United States.

Bayani Fredeluces, executive director of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc., expressed confidence that local tuna industry players “would breeze” the audit.

“The EU food safety audit would give the Philippines the chance to reassure the foreign market that we are doing what ought to be done,” Fredeluces said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Still, Fredeluces reminded the local tuna industry players to maintain or improve the basic food safety standard requirements in a bid to avoid problems with the European market.

Macabalang said the major challenge for the Philippines is to stop the continuous unloading of fish catches from unlicensed fishing vessels, urging the operators to register their boats.

Under Europe’s fisheries product policy, tuna fish producers are required to provide a catch certificate that details where the stocks where caught and the volume or in other words the traceability of the supplies.

The European Commission has been active in the fight against IUU fishing in over a decade because the governing body considers it one of the most dangerous threats to the sustainable exploitation of live aquatic resources.

The commission adopted the Common Fisheries Policy based on its 2002 Action Plan as directly inspired by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ International Plan of Action in 2001 to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing.

Ministers from member-states of the European Union reached a political agreement on a regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing on June 24, 2008. The regulation was formally adopted by the European council on September 29, 2008 and was enforced on January 1, 2010. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)