FEED Business Worldwide March, 2012
Philippine meat import dilemma comes to a head 
by Gemma C. DELMO
One of the most contentious issues challenging Philippine agribusiness is a rising volume of cheap meat imports, which has led to a fiery exchange of words between the livestock producers and meat importers. Livestock producers accused meat importers of massive smuggling, while the latter blames the poor quality of local meat for making importation necessary.
The issue became highly controversial after early 2010's AFTA trade liberalization and subsequent CAFTA agreement saw heightened inflow of pork and poultry from Southeast Asia and China.
Moreover, this rift between these livestock farms and meat import stakeholders is poised to intensify, with both parties refusing to give in to each other's demands. One points to the low quality of domestic meat; the other to illegal imports and the abuse of trade liberalisation rules. Amid their differences, industry players are keeping their fingers crossed that significant developments will unfold in the coming months.
Rising import volume justified
When it comes to importation, this dispute between livestock producers and meat importers is nothing new. Volumes have been rising at an ascending rate since 2006. But unlike in previous years where both parties would quietly reconcile their differences, the bickering between the two groups has been ostentatious that accusations have been endlessly hurdled against each other.
Although importation is allowed under the World Trade Organization (WTO), livestock producers were alarmed to see a tripling of shipments over the last five years. Figures from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) show that pork imports surged from 79.38 million kilos in 2007 to 169.21 million kilos in 2011 (preliminary); while chicken shipments also increased from 45.07 million kilos to 127.22 million kilos on the same period.
For this reason, some livestock factions have accused meat importers of smuggling illegal meat cuts and quantities, an accusation which the Meat Importers Traders Association (MITA) strongly denies. "The issue about smuggling is very subjective because nobody knows. If it's in the open, it will not be called smuggling and nobody knows until there are apprehensions or actual arrests. Smuggling is a customs issue and that is beyond our control," says MITA chairperson Jesus C. Cham.
Cham recalls that during the Gloria Arroyo administration, livestock producers partnered with the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group to look at warehouses for the so-called "misdeclared" imports where contraband, high-value meat cuts mislabeled as offal's were stored by importers. Cham and his group may have been vindicated as the joint force found nothing much to their dismay. Cham asserts that he will keep on defending importation until the meat producers will come up with concrete evidence of smuggling.
Although MITA's business is meat importation, Cham validates their group's preference for imported meat. Firstly, he says prices of imported meat are below US$1/kg or roughly PHP43/kg compared to fresh pork or chicken which costs PHP150/kg (US$3.49/kg) and PHP90/kg (US$2.09/kg) respectively. Second, the quality of domestic meat does not meet the HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) criteria.
Cham adds that, "You go to any of the meat processors that are HACCP; they cannot accept local materials unless they have to. If they have their preference, they will also buy from another HACCP which, the local livestock producers do not have here. So they are not in a position to supply HACCP products to processors."
Cham explains that storing imported meat is critical since producers cannot readily supply their requirements in case of emergencies. "Let's say I have a customer who is selling a lot of fried chicken and he will need so many kilos of chicken. I cannot go out to buy the chicken to supply him because if it happens there's a typhoon, there's a flood, there's a natural calamity and there is no food in the market, then I have nothing to supply him."
Cham also laughed off claims that imported meat did not pass sanitary regulations. "That is the silliest allegation that they had. All meat that we import comes from establishments that have been accredited by the Department of Agriculture. All of its products come from HACCP plants and all of them come with international health certification. All these products are sold to China, Russia, EU, Hong Kong, Japan, all over the world so the producers should not be saying that it did not pass inspections or are not fit for human consumption."
Cham assures that their products are guaranteed safe since there is a mandatory or compulsory notification of countries to immediately declare or halt exports should there be diseases or animal health issues.
Cham also tells MITA doesn't just import pork offal's but they also purchase buffalo meat from India, beef from Australia, pork from Canada, US and Europe and chicken from as far as Brazil. "All of these products are wholesome or else, they would not be traded, they would not be able to get approval or accreditation by the government."
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