By Madelaine B. Miraflor
After ignoring calls from local producers to suspend the importation of poultry products, the Department of Agriculture (DA) said it actually saw a decline in the volume of poultry meat imports from January to May.
In a statement, the DA cited data from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) showing a double digit decline in the country’s poultry meat imports, which fell by 23 percent from 43,000 metric tons (MT) in January to 33,000 MT in May.
Of this, 70 percent was composed of mechanically deboned meat (MDM), fats, offals and rinds used by industrial processors, according to BAI’s National Veterinary Quarantine Services Division.
MDM is used as raw material by meat processors and is not locally available.
“The imported poultry products are used by meat processing and manufacturing firms, and do not compete in the wet market, where our local producers bring their fresh products,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said.
“It is the department’s commitment to raise the productivity of the country’s poultry sector. I have always emphasized our goal to increase local food production, poultry included. We will, in every step of the way, assist our local raisers in whatever way we can,” he added.
Dar’s statement came after his agency received more petitions for it to temporarily stop the issuance of import permits for poultry to help local raisers cope with falling demand and prices.
In a joint statement, eight agriculture and related organizations appealed for DA and BAI to stop issuing import permits for chicken meat, pork, and processed meat products at least until the end of the year to allow local producers to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Imports are causing “despicable” damage to millions of Filipinos, they said.
Signatories in the joint statement include Stephanie Nicole S. Garcia of Philippine Association of Feed Millers Inc.; Edwin G. Chen of the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines; Roger Navarro of Philippine Maize Federation Inc.; Danilo V. Fausto of Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc.; Elias Jose Inciong of United Broilers and Raisers Association; Chester Warren Y. Tan of National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc.; Irwin M. Ambal of Philippine Eggboard Association Inc.; and Corazon P. Occidental of Philippine Veterinary Medical Association.
For his part, Dar said while the DA could not suspend importation due to trade concerns, the agency is now doing what it can to restrict the issuance of import permits.
He also said that the recently observed decline in imported poultry meat and poultry products shows that local production is sufficient to satisfy national demand as the country continues to face economic and health threats brought about by the pandemic.
Moving forward, Dar said the DA will continuously boost the local poultry industry as it implements a national livestock program (NLP) under the bigger umbrella program, popularly called ‘Plant, Plant, Plant program.
The NLP is a multi-million peso package to support the recovery of the country’s livestock and poultry industry, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and ensure the production and supply of safe, affordable, and adequate food for Filipinos.
“The lockdown has created tremendous trade limitations among producers, retailers, and consumers. There were partial operations or full closure of local businesses, causing loss of income of consumers,” BAI director Ronnie Domingo said.
“Hence, we immediately looked into addressing the surplus in poultry supply. Related to this situation, the DA’s National Meat Inspection Service [NMIS] reported that aside from accredited cold storage facilities, excess meat is being stored in plug-in refrigerated vans which can be considered as food safety risk,” he added.
It is for this reason, Dar said, that the DA-BAI-NMIS team is strengthening the system to secure the cold storage facilities and to prevent excess meat being stored in un-accredited systems.
Domingo recently drew flak from local raisers after subtly suggesting the local producers to limit their production in order to give way to importation.
Dar immediately came to the defense of Domingo, saying that this is “fake news”.
For his part, Domingo said “we have no jurisdiction over the volume, format, and type of meat to be imported.
Amid the issues, the BAI has recommended strategic and operational plans to reinvigorate the local poultry industry. In the short term, the agency will advocate for the development of a new delivery system under the “new normal” as it continues to consult industry stakeholders.