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Food certification pays

| 28/06/2009 | Reply

By Chupsie Medina
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITH
consumer preferences changing and safety standards in the global food
market becoming more stringent, proper certification of Philippine
agricultural and marine products can no longer be taken for granted.

“There
is a growing demand for our processed foods in many developed markets,
and if our small and medium manufacturers want to take advantage of
this, they need to invest in a wider range of certification,” says Ma.
Antonietta Salazar, senior trade industry development specialist at the
Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (Citem).

Codex

Food
certification has its roots in the establishment of the Codex
Alimentarius Commission (CAC), an intergovernmental body that
coordinates food standardization work to protect the health of
consumers and to ensure fair practices in international food trade.

Over
the years, Codex (Latin for food code) has become the de facto
international standard for food moving in international trade. But it
is not the only one.

The global halal market, for example,
estimated at $700 billion annually and serving about a third of the
world’s population, has its own system of certification. Even in the
Philippines, which is home to about five million Filipino Muslims,
there is a strong business case to go halal.

Then there is newly organized certification for the organic food industry.

While
still in its infancy stage, the demand for truly organic food,
characterized by a marked reduction and even the absence of inorganic
or chemical inputs, is a rapidly growing and lucrative market
especially in developed countries.

Recently, the government,
through Citem, started encouraging local food manufacturers to go for
kosher certification to be able to penetrate the Jewish market,
estimated to be at $260 billion in 2008. Kosher food preparation is
regarded to be more strict than halal.

According to a study, food
quality, health, and safety are the main reasons why people go for
kosher food – and not just for religious reasons.

Stringent process

Recognizing
the need to push food enterprises with good potential to penetrate the
export market, Citem and other government agencies that include the
Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry and
Department of Science and Technology, set aside funds to assist those
that would commit to a certification process.

To make
manufacturers aware of kosher certification, Citem brought in Joel
Weinberger, president of PS Kosher Food Works Inc. and an independent
international kosher inspector and expert, to talk about the kosher
world and to give one-on-one coaching sessions to interested
entrepreneurs.

Impressive range

Weinberger
was impressed with the range of food products in local cottage-type
industries, and felt that these have a huge potential to benefit from
the kosher market that includes about 50 million Americans who are
lactose intolerant. Kosher law strictly separates meat from milk.

Despite
the benefits that local food manufacturers stand to gain from complying
with the food safety systems and certifications, it is difficult to
convince many of them to go through the process, according to Salazar.
“Usually, it is the fear of having to change their existing processes
more than the cost,” she adds.

In fact, such basic food safety
systems as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and Hazard Analysis and
Critical Control Point (HACCP) are often ignored by most small- and
medium-sized food manufacturers.

Those that are compliant number
only about a thousand compared to Thailand, one of the country’s
biggest competitors in the export market, where almost all the
manufacturers are registered.

Even the simplest requirements on
labeling, the indication of nutrition facts and the statement of the
production process are not strictly complied with and enforced,
especially if the manufacturer is not looking to sell outside the local
market.

“Sometimes, just the thought of having to redesign labels
so that nutrition facts are properly displayed is enough to discourage
a small manufacturer to pursue basic certification. The same is true if
they need to change labels to include halal, kosher or organic
certification-compliant marks,” Salazar says.

There are a handful
of Filipino companies though that went for certification. Despite the
initial cost, which can be sizeable for a small firm, the benefit that
is being reaped by these companies from their ability to trade in the
American, European and Middle East markets has been worth it, says
Salazar.

Category: Asia, Halal Integrity

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