Local fruits and vegetables would further lose their competitiveness and eventually could not enter the ASEAN export markets in the next few years should these remain non-compliant to quality and safety standards set by importing countries.
This was underscored by Edralina Serrano, professor of the University of the Philippines Los Baños’ Postharvest and Seed Sciences Division during the recently held Agrilink agribusiness exhibition and seminar.
Prof. Serrano noted an increasing demand by importers, retailers and customers for producers or suppliers of fresh produce and food products to implement quality assurance systems particularly the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to assure food quality and safety throughout the food chain.
Food-borne diseases could result in losses of market access and credibility, foreign revenues for the exporting countries and lose of competitiveness, said Serrano.
“Importers will not accept those that are not GAP-compliant or those that have no certification for safety and quality,” she said.
“And eventually by 2015 under ASEAN, we could not export to any ASEAN country unless farms where products are sourced are GAP-compliant.”
Citing a data, Serrano said one vegetable farm and three fruit farms implementing GAP in the Philippines, compared to Vietnam’s 3,000 farms and Thailand’s 53,582 farms.
She attributed this problem to the difficulty to attain compliance since GAP is voluntary, and the lack of awareness about the benefits of having a quality and safety certification.
Serrano also blamed this to inadequate infrastructure, particularly the central data system towards the establishment of a national traceability system like the ones in Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Thailand.
To improve GAP compliance in the country, the government should undertake massive promotion of the GAP program, a similar move undertaken by Malaysia to raise awareness of consumers about the benefits of GAP.
Moreover, Serrano encouraged local exporters to provide logistic support and training program to small farmers and producers, supplying them with fresh produce and food products.
The academe, particularly UPLB, could provide basic science-based information on the nature of hazards or toxic contaminants, a quality assurance program concern in food safety, she said.
“All countries are now setting standards for quality and food safety. So if we can’t meet their standards, then we cannot export. We have to comply because under the WTO, we are bound by these standards. Sanitary and phytosanitary issues could be addressed by complying with GAP,” Serrano stressed.