How safe are the food we eat and medicines we imbibe?

BY Abe P. Belena, REPOSTED FROM PHILEXPORT News and Features 

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) last week forewarned the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to be on the look-out for imported or smuggled powdered milk from China after Chinese authorities found out that milk manufactured in Mongolia was laced with the deadly metal, mercury.

The FDA assured the public though that it has not lifted the ban in the importation of milk made in China since melamine, another deadly substance mixed with milk, caused the death of hundreds of babies in China.

In the local front, the food safety watchdog declared that only three brands of soy sauce, kikoman imported from Japan, Mama Sita and Datu Puti that are made locally, have been complying with FDA standards of using an additive that is known to cause cancer when used above one part per million.

All sauce makers were given until July this year to bring down the use of the dangerous chemical to .4 parts per million.

The above mentioned high profile cases which happened only in the month of June were just the tip of the iceberg of what the country’s food safety watchdog has been doing, explained Lourdes Santiago, chief of the local FDA’s laboratory division in a forum at the University of the Philippines the other day.

The agency, which was renamed and upgraded a few years back, has assumed more muscle including that of ordering the withdrawal of processed food products including beverages and juices, pharmaceuticals including veterinary medicines and cosmetics from the shelves of groceries and drug stores the moment a particular product on sale is confirmed to be dangerous to public health.

It recently demonstrated that power when it banned the importation and sale of 13 out of 14 skin whitening creams and lotions from China after these were confirmed by its laboratory people to be heavily laced with mercury.

The FDA was tipped off by a food safety non-government organization after the latter made its own laboratory tests on skin whitening concoctions it bought in Metro Manila.
The FDA, however, could not trace the origins of those dangerous creams and lotions because their brands and addresses were written in Chinese characters.

To execute its mandate, the FDA registers all food, cosmetics and drug manufacturers and  importers, further  tests in its labs for safety and health standards every processed product  under its wings  that the makers want  to sell to the public.

It was admitted though that fake or sub-standard medicines imported or smuggled from abroad, still find their way to legitimate drug stores in the Philippines.  FDA does not, however, have the manpower and the mandate to police the country’s porous borders to prevent smuggling.

Assuring that the food Filipinos buy are fit to eat is not the exclusive territory of the FDA. Other government agencies under the Department of Agriculture are also involved: the National Meat Inspection Service for meat products sold in public markets, the Bureau of Plant Industry for fresh vegetables and fruits, the Bureau of Animal Industry on the importation or export of animals and birds, and the Bureau of Fisheries on fishes and other aquatic products.

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