Group calls for strict enforcement of food labeling requirements
A toxics watchdog monitoring harmful chemicals in products called for the stringent enforcement of food labeling requirements, especially for imported prepackaged food products.
The group called for compliant food labeling as it welcomed the findings by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the safety of Korean noodles from benzopyrene, a cancer-causing substance, in product batches under scrutiny.
The FDA yesterday lifted the “temporary ban” on six types of Korean instant noodles after laboratory analysis showed the benzopyrene content to be below the 10 parts per billion (ppb) limit used for the recall advisory.
“One of our discoveries at the height of the hullabaloo surrounding the recall of some Korean instant noodles due to the benzopyrene scare was the problem with imported food items with no English or Filipino product information,” said Aileen Lucero of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project Protect.
“The recalled items we obtained from Korean specialty shops were without any English or Filipino translation, depriving the consumers of their right to information and making it difficult for food safety advocates to conduct market monitoring,”she said.
“Labels that are complete, truthful and understandable can guide consumers in making the right choices to safeguard them from abuse, fraud and health risk,” she pointed.
To gauge the “extent” of the labeling problem with imported prepackaged food products, the EcoWaste Coalition’s AlerToxic Patrol went shopping for imported instant noodles on November 10-11, 2012.
The group bought 13 different types of imported instant noodles priced between P20 to P47 from stores selling Chinese, Japanese, Korean and other imported food products in Binondo, Manila City; Cartimar, Pasay City; and Cubao, Quezon City.
Out of the 13 samples, only 4 have basic labeling information written in English, such as a Nissin Chicken Flavor Ramen from Hong Kong, an Indomie Mi Goreng Satay Flavor Instant Noodle from Indonesia, an Ottogi Kimchi Ramen from South Korea and a Wei-Wei Vegetarian Flavor Instant Noodle from Taiwan.
The Myojo, Sanyo and Toyo Suisan Japanese instant noodles – all obtained from Cartimar – have no product information in English.
The Nongshim, Ottogi (2 types) and Paldo Korean noodles bought from Cartimar and Cubao, as well as the two Chinese noodles from Binondo, have no English translation on their labels.
“If there is one thing we can learn from the Korean noodle controversy it is the need to enforce the labeling rules and regulations as instructed by law,”Lucero added.
Lucero was referring to Administrative Order No. 88-B, Series of 1984 on the “Rules and Regulations Governing the Labeling of Prepackaged Food Products Distributed in the Philippines” issued by the Department of Health (then known as the Ministry of Health) as recommended by the Bureau of Food and Drugs (the precursor of the current FDA).
The said AO requires that “the language used for all information on the label shall be either English or Filipino or any major dialect or a combination thereof.”
“In the case of imported food products, labels where in the information are declared in a foreign language must also carry the corresponding English translation, otherwise such products shall not be permitted for local distribution,” the AO said.
According to the AO, all prepackaged food products shall bear the following mandatory information on the label: 1) name of the food, 2) complete list of ingredients, 3) declaration of food additives, 4) net contents and drained weight, 5) name and address of manufacturer, packer and distributor.
“Any violation of the provision of this rules and regulation shall render the article misbranded and the responsible person shall be subject to the penal provision of section 12 (a) of R.A. 3720 (Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act),” the A.O. stated.
“We further suggest the provision of mandatory information that will tell consumers if genetically modified materials, as well as nano materials, were used in the manufacture of food products. We’ve got to know what it is in the foods on our plates,” Lucero added.