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).
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.
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.
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.
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