DA probes online sale of smuggled frozen pigeons from Hong Kong
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) is currently investigating reports of smuggled frozen pigeons from Hong Kong being sold online as illegal traders troop to the digital space to evade apprehension.
The United Broilers Raisers Association (Ubra), in a letter submitted to the agency on Wednesday, raised the alarm on the rampant sale of smuggled poultry meat and frozen products online, most of which run on false advertising and do not follow food safety protocols.
This includes the alleged sale of frozen pigeons in a high-end condominium in Taguig City. A screenshot of the message showed that the products were being sold at P420 apiece through the messaging app Viber. The group chat has 360 members.
Ubra President Bong Inciong said this is not the first time that pigeons from China are being smuggled through ports, but this was the first time for them to see transactions done online.
Pigeons are usually served in Chinese restaurants. In the Philippines, pigeons are still considered a delicacy and are often raised for racing.
Asked whether cases of smuggling have risen since quarantine lockdowns were imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Inciong said there is no way for the industry to know.
“No one can say whether these cases have gone down or up, because we don’t have the necessary data. Government figures are often outdated or inaccurate,” he said.
“The sad reality is that we do not have the trade data system to address unfair trade and smuggling nor do we have the physical facilities at our customs borders to effectively prevent the entry of diseases. We need both for our quarantine personnel to perform their duties well,” he added.
Kristine Evangelista, assistant secretary for agribusiness and marketing at the DA, said that they are currently looking into the reports, noting that the digital space is relatively new for the agency to properly navigate.
Aside from frozen pigeons, the industry group also flagged the sale of imported chickens online that were left to thaw out in the open – considered a handling violation under the Food Safety Act.
There were also chicken cuts from Brazil being falsely advertised that have a shelf life of two years. The shelf life for whole chickens that were directly frozen is only up to twelve months, while chicken cut into pieces have a reduced shelf life of six months.
Catching illegal traders online remains a challenge for authorities who are used to conducting raids in warehouses and public markets.
Just recently, some 129 kilos of imported mechanically deboned meat (MDM) were confiscated in a public market in Libertad, Manila. Aside from handling violations, the DA said MDM could not be directly sold to consumers and may only be held by processors.
But apprehending smugglers online is an entire operation altogether.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar admitted that smuggling continues to be a major problem in the industry, noting that the spread of the African swine fever in Luzon was caused by tainted meat smuggled from China.
The secretary appealed to consumers to help the agency monitor public and online markets that may be selling smuggled products, noting that the DA does not have enough manpower and resources to scour the entire digital space.
Agricultural stakeholders have been urging the government to establish a first border inspection facility at the country’s major port to curb smuggling, but Bureau of Animal Industry Director Ronnie Domingo said construction has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Setting up a border inspection facility would allow the agency to conduct a 100-percent examination of all imported agricultural products.
For now, the Bureau of Customs could only run a “close open” examination of shipments, which means literally opening and closing trucks to avoid spoilage and contamination.
Domingo said they are optimistic that the inspection facility will be operational by June next year.
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