Francisco Buencamino, executive director of the Tuna Canners Association of the Philippines (TCAP), reported that sources at the European Commission (EC) in Manila said the scheduled inspections on tuna production facilities and operations in the city would finally push through on Oct. 16-27.
But BFAR Director Malcolm Sarmiento said they would ask the EC to defer their visit until November due to some scheduled activities of the bureau during the period.
Buencamino said the EU may not allow a deferment of the inspection next month as they have already fixed the remaining days of the year for their scheduled inspections on other areas. “In that case, I don’t think it will happen this year,” Buencamino told reporters.
He said BFAR should reconsider its priorities as another delay in the inspections would be detrimental to the operations of the tuna producers and exporters to the 25-nation EU market.
Next month’s inspection was a followup to the September 2004 mission of EU regulatory and safety experts.
Marfenio Tan, president of the Socsksargen Federation of Fishing Associations and Allied Industries, Inc., said the inspection is part of ensuring the country’s compliance with EU’s food handling safety standards.
“We’re still allowed to send our goods to the EU markets but they are now requiring an inspection and accreditation procedures for future shipments,” he said.
But Tan assured that the local tuna industry is well-prepared for the scheduled visit of the EU inspectors.
Through the assistance of BFAR and other government agencies, the industry embarked on Good Manufacturing Practice-Standard Sanitation Operating Principle (GMP-SSOP) food safety practices.
Tuna producers also implemented the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), one of the required quality standards in the international markets.
The Philippine Fisheries Development Authority, a government-owned corporation managing the fish port complex here, has set up a Quality Assurance Unit Team to protect food supply from microbial, chemical, and physical hazards that may occur during stages of production.
Among the SSOP’s principles that the fish port complex has been complying are safety of water, food contact surface cleanliness; prevention of cross-contamination of food contact surfaces; hand-washing, sanitizing, and toilet maintenance; protection of food and food packaging materials and food contact surfaces; control of clients’ health conditions; proper labeling, storage, and use of toxic compounds, exclusion of pests.
The EU accounts for roughly 40 percent of the country’s exports of fresh and canned tuna valued at over $100 million annually. The country produces about 400,000 metric tons of tuna annually valued at US$330 million or roughly P18 billion. These earnings mainly come from the products exported to Japan, United States, and EU.
This city, which is dubbed as the country’s tuna capital, presently hosts seven of the country’s eight tuna canneries. The industry reportedly employs at least 100,000 fisherfolks and laborers in the area.