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No directive yet on canned foods ban, says HK shipper

04 June 2019

By Daisy CL Mandap
Image result for ma ling luncheon meat
Ma Ling is popular 'pasalubong' among Pinoys

Is it illegal to send or bring in canned pork products to the Philippines, particularly Ma Ling?

This is the question often asked by Filipino migrant workers now, in the wake of a controversial confiscation of several cans of Ma Ling from an overseas Filipino worker from Hong Kong who arrived at Clark Airport on May 25.

The move was said to be in line with a Philippine government ban on the importation of pork and pork products from countries infected with African swine fever, including China.

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ASF is a highly contagious and deadly disease affecting pigs and wild boars, but is not passed on to humans.

But according to Rosabelle Woolf, general manager of AFreight in Hong Kong, their company has not received any directive about the reported ban on canned meat products, so their customers are not being told yet not to include these in their door-to-door boxes.
“Iyan nga ang pinag-uusapan namin kahapon (Jun 3), pero wala pang directive kahit sa Door to Door Cargo Association of the Philippines, kaya hindi pa rin naming pinagbabawal, Woolf said.

She said many of their customers have been asking about this, either through their social media accounts or in person, but they have advised them to just wait for any new development.

Image may contain: Rosabelle Leonor-Woolf
“Sa ngayon wait and see pa kami kasi wala pa namang order, e,” said Woolf. 

Many of the queries pertain to China-produced Ma Ling luncheon meat, which many Filipinos often pack into the cargo boxes they send to their family members back in the Philippines.

It was the same canned product seized from Norma Agtarap at Clark Airport when she went home for a vacation in her hometown in La Union early this month.

Agtarap complained about the seizure to broadcaster Raffy Tulfo, who promptly took the airport personnel to task, and got them to return the canned goods to her.
That sparked an angry response from Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol who disclosed that his office had issued a directive as early as August last year prohibiting the importation of pork or pork products from countries infected by ASF.

Piñol warned that violating this directive could result in a fine of up to Php200,000.

Acting on his request, the Food and Drug Administration ordered the recall on May 27 of all pork products imported from countries hit by ASF. These include, apart from China, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Zambia, South Africa, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Mongolia, Moldova and Belgium.

The order also directed "all importers, distributors, retail outlets, and other dealers" of processed pork products from ASF-hit countries to immediately implement the recall.

But as of this writing, the FDA order appears to have been largely ignored, with only Cebu City ordering as of May 30 the removal from grocery shelves of all canned meat products from the named ASF-infected countries.

In a follow-up broadcast on May 28, Tulfo showed off Ma Ling products he bought from some of the biggest grocery chains in Metro Manila, and hit out anew at Piñol for supposedly targeting only small direct consumers like OFWs and not the big importers.

Agtarap said in a phone hook-up that grocery stores in her La Union hometown are also openly displaying and selling the same products.

But given that a precedent has been set, it may not be advisable to bring Ma Ling with you on your next vacation to the Philippines. You can probably pack it into the next balikbayan box you send home – at your own risk.
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