FDA opinion kills DA’s basis of poultry ban

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    The call by meat processors and importers for the total lifting of the ban on imports of poultry and its by-products from Brazil may have gotten reinforcement from the food safety agency.

    In a letter to the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. dated Sept. 11, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said there is no evidence the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV2), the causative agent of the new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), can be passed on from food to humans.

    FDA director-general Enrique Domingo told PAMPI president Felix Tiukinhoy Jr. there is currently no evidence to support the transmission of COVID-19 virus from food or food ingredients as was also pronounced by the World Health Organization.

    “Generally, coronaviruses need live human or animal host to multiply and survive. The poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces of materials will likely have a very low risk of spread from food packaging or even food products,” Domingo said in the letter.

    He added COVID-19 virus, like other known viruses and bacteria found in food, is killed by high temperatures which can be achieved through thorough cooking.

    But the FDA noted the Department of Agriculture (DA) has the mandate on the prevention of transmission of diseases from agricultural commodities, such as raw meat, to animals and humans.

    “The FDA would like to emphasize the importance of reinforcing stricter personal hygiene measures of workers and strengthening of food hygiene and sanitation practices within the business premises. It is important that food business operators create new interventions to protect its workers and to eliminate the risk of contaminating the surfaces and food packaging from any possible source of the virus,” Domingo said.

    The FDA’s opinion is contrary to the DA’s justification of the ban.

    The DA banned the entry of all Brazilian chicken products after reports that SARS-COV 2 was detected in a surface sampling conducted in chicken meat imported from Brazil.

    The ban was partially lifted early this month when DA allowed the entry of mechanically-deboned meat (MDM) from factories in Brazil that have zero COVID cases.

    But meat importers have alleged shipments of MDM of chicken from Brazil are stalled even after the DA partially lifted the ban.

    Jess Cham, president of the Meat Importers and Traders Association, in a letter to DA Secretary William Dar dated Sept. 7, 2020 expressed dismay that chicken meat and offal are still not allowed to enter the country when these come from the same factories from which MDM imports are sourced.

    “There is no scientific justification to ban chicken meat and allow MDM,” said Cham, who urged the DA to lift the ban entirely.

    Data from the Bureau of Animal Industry show that from January to July this year, the Philippines imported a total of 159,745,948 kg. of chicken MDM, of which 39,250,498 kg. or 24.5 percent came from Brazil.

    In 2019, for the total 219,061,866 kg. of MDM that were imported by the country, Brazil provided 40,684,752 kg. or 18.5 percent. -J. Macapagal