11M bags of imported rice at NFA ‘unfit for humans’
By Joseph Holandes Ubalde
July 22, 2011
IS THE imported rice stored by the state’s National Food Authority still safe for consumption?
A group of food security advocates on Friday said it isn’t after finding out in their study that imported rice from the US stored at two NFA warehouses “are slowly getting spoiled” or are “rotting.”
“This age-old rice has not been tested for its safe level of chemical residues or traces due to fumigation and fogging, yet these are already being subjected to public auction for distribution to consumers,” said Jessica Reyes Cantos, convenor of the Rice Watch and Action Network.
The group said that the storage time for milled rice (white rice without the husk) is only six months tops.
According to the group’s investigation, the US grains that were brought to the country in April 2008 are still stored in various NFA warehouses that includes those in Antipolo City, Balagtas Bulacan, Metro Manila and Central Luzon Region. The stocks in Metro Manila and Region III “are as old as 16 months and more,” the group said.
It added that the rice brought into the country 16 months ago were fumigated once “but sprayed with pesticide 16 times and fogged 31 times” to prevent the grains from rotting.
The group estimates that the “rotting” rice in the warehouses have reached 11 million bags or 550,000 metric tons. The NFA lost approximately P16.5 billion pesos for the landed cost alone “excluding the cost incurred by the government for transportation and warehousing.”
This does not include the cost of US rice imported at a much higher price than from other countries as well as “5 percent broken rice variety bought in 2008 and 2009.
Jaime Tadeo of the National Rice Farmers Council feared that the stocks of rotting rice in the NFA warehouses will not give room for the new harvest of local farmers.
“Come September, some farms will be reaping their crops and the NFA warehouses should be available to accommodate the farmers’ produce,” Tadeo said.
But NFA head Angelito Banayo told InterAksyon on Friday that the so-called “rotting rice” have long been auctioned off. Since 2000, the NFA has regularly auctioned off imported rice that have long been stored in their warehouses. He said groups were invited by the NFA to inspect the rice prior to the auction “for transparency.”
Banayo said the rice have been imported only last March 2010 and are not stored for 16 months as the group alleged.
“There’s a difference between rotting and ageing,” Banayo said.
According to him, rice can be stored for up to two years. But rice that have been stored that long have to be re-milled, he added.
“The problem with Filipinos is that they’re too picky with the rice quality (even if it’s in good condition),” Banayo said.
But Trinidad Domingo, Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan chair, condemned the Department of Agriculture previous administration for “gross negligence” and for its lack of support on local farmers.
“We are even more disheartened to find out that the present administration has not done enough to correct the problem,” Domingo added.
In his first State of the Nation Address, President Benigno Aquino III revealed several fishy transactions entered by the NFA during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
According to Aquino, the government then overspent in procuring the grains and imported rice more than what was needed. The result is a P171.6-billion debt by the NFA in May 2010.
Last September, Banayo announced that the government needs to import 1.5 million metric tons of rice due to poor farm output. He said the government needs to buy at least 1 million metric tons of rice due to a projected shortfall of 3.2 million metric tons this year.
“We are alarmed,” said Domingo. “If Administrator Banayo follows this line of policy, we will end up swimming in rotting rice again. ”
The groups urged the government to check the grains stored at the warehouses and prevent it from being sold to consumers.
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