Are steaks for US troops exempt from inspection?By Niña P. Calleja, Tarra Quismundo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Are food products for US troops in the Philippines covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement and should they be exempt from quarantine inspection?
“But we will stick with our rules. Like in any other country, they must abide by our regulations,” Agriculture Secretary Prospero Alcala said.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is set to meet on Jan. 16 with US military officials to sort out this issue and discuss the country’s rules on meat imports, including the possibility of the US buying its meat supplies for its troops from the local markets instead.
The DA earlier held a shipment of meat from the US for not going through complete quarantine procedures. Six container vans of assorted goods, including frozen meat products, remained on hold inside a cold storage in Laguna province after being stopped by DA inspectors last year because of the “absence of Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) clearance.”
The arrival of the food shipments from the US without the SPS clearance raised concerns among hog and poultry raisers that these might be contaminated and could pose a danger to local products.
Alcala on Friday told reporters that Commander James Bridges of the US Defense Logistics Agency in the Asia Pacific and the country’s agriculture officials “… will meet (to) flesh out details about certain protocols of the country in terms of shipping imports.”
According to the DA’s National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS), all importers must secure the SPS clearance before they could ship products and use the storage houses in the country.
“A third party contractor of the US military had shipped goods without the SPS clearance,” NMIS executive director Minda Manantan said.
US Embassy public affairs officer Luke Meinzen said in an e-mail response to questions from the Inquirer that the Jan. 16 meeting would try to “establish acceptable import protocols and procedure for all future military shipments of food products to resupply US military units in the Philippines and US naval ships in the region.”
Officials from the US Defense Logistics Agency and the US Department of Agriculture are expected to meet with Philippine officials from the Bureau of Animal Industry, Bureau of Plant Industry, National Meat Inspection Service and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
Meinzen emphasized the high quality of meat and poultry supplies from the United States, saying that American meat and chicken exports shipped to the Philippines have long been known to be safe.
Manantan said around 300 kilograms of meat products inside the container vans had been released last week. “We will only release the rest of the products after the matter is settled at the meeting,” she added.
Manantan said that previously, the US military had sent tons of food provisions for its troops through transhipment, or the transfer of goods from one carrier to another.
“Back then, they don’t need a clearance from us because they are doing transhipments,” she said.
Alcala said the recent misunderstanding about import protocols could open the possibility of the US military sourcing its troops’ food supply from the local markets.
He said an agriculture official counselor at the US Embassy in Manila told him in a meeting last December that the US government is mulling the idea of getting some of the soldiers’ food provisions from the Philippines.