Tuna canners fear European control

Codex is a joint food standards body run by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to protect consumers' health and ensure practices in food trade.

Francisco Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines based in Manila, said the Codex will no longer discuss lead content on fish products after it accepted the 0.3 parts per million (ppm)  level proposed by the Philippine panel.

Aside from Europe, the United States is also guided by the 0.3 ppm adopted by Codex Alimentarius.

“The Codex Alimentarius committee decided to drop lead content from the agenda and we feared that losing further discussions on this matter would leave us and Europe free to dictate their own limits,” he said by e-mail.

Buencamino noted that lead content has been in the agenda of the Codex Alimentarius committee in the Netherlands in the last 10 years.

The tuna canning sector, he said, has been pushing for a range of 0.2 to 0.5 ppm to be the acceptable range that should have been adopted by the Codex.

Last year, Dr. Alicia Lustre of the Food Development Center attended the Codex conference and presented technical studies to prove that 0.2 to 0.5 ppm was a scientifically safe range that would not affect the intelligence quotients of infants, he said.

He said studies conducted by the tuna canning sector showed that the fish exported by the Philippines can pass the 0.3 ppm level, which is actually lower than the .2 ppm level Europe would have wanted to implement.

Taking a cue from the study, the Philippine panel proposed 0.3 ppm that was eventually adopted as the acceptable limit for lead content in fish.

Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to Brussels, Belgium Cristina Ortega said the new international standard easing the requirement to lead levels in fish will benefit the country, particularly its tuna exports.

"The Philippines stands to benefit from this new international standard as the EU is expected to amend the current regulation on lead levels in fish," Ortega was quoted in reports.

Bayani Fredelusces, executive director of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing and Allied Industries, Inc. here, said Ortega did not consult the local tuna industry here in proposing the 0.3 ppm lead content on fish.

He declined to give the stand of the federation on the latest development on lead content in fish. He said the local canned tuna sector has not requested the stand of the federation.

Six of the country’s eight tuna canneries are based in this city.

Last year, local tuna industry records show that Japan and the United States were the top destinations for canned tuna, at US$7.3 million (26.03%) and US$7.1 million (25.46%), respectively.

Canned tuna sale from this city in the European market was only US$3.8 million or 13.53% market share.  (MindaNews)