(Source: The Philippine Star | By Czeriza Valencia | July 8, 2015)
The National Food Authority (NFA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) yesterday seized 1,561 kilos of smuggled rice from three retail stores in Binondo and Arranque Market in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
NFA Administrator Renan Dalisay said Hua Chong Mart and Mandarin Supermarket in Binondo and the Forwarders Food Mart in Arranque Market had been put on surveillance prior to the raid as these were either selling rice without a permit or were operating on an expired license.
Deputy Commissioner for BOC Enforcement Group Ariel Nepomuceno said the raids were also based on the order of Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina on suspicion that the stores were selling smuggled rice.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is doing a separate probe on the proliferation of suspected synthetic or fake rice in the country.
NBI Director Virgilio Mendez declined to elaborate but told The STAR the on-going probe is at its “initial stage” as agents gather information nationwide to address the illegal trade of fake rice.
Last month, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte revealed that fake rice is being sold in Davao City. The NFA laboratory confirmed that some of the grains contained plasticizer or dibutyl phthalate, which is commonly used to make flexible plastic goods and cosmetic products.
The NFA warned consumers that fake rice looks and feels chalky. And when cooked, it is sticky and crumbles like chalk.
Seized in yesterday’s raids were nine 25-kilogram bags of rice, 105 10-kilogram bags, 50 five-kilogram bags and 18 two-kilogram packs.
Dalisay said samples were bought from the stores earlier and subjected to age determination, which established that the rice stocks are only three to four months old.
“During the age determination, it was discovered that the rice stocks are new and this cannot be traced to the batch auctioned by the BOC in October 2014. We don’t have import permits for China so these are smuggled,” he added.
Food security chief Francis Pangilinan said the confiscated rice was identified to have been sourced from China through the packaging. It will be temporarily stored in the NFA warehouse in Quezon City as the BOC has no available storage space.
Pangilinan said the NFA legal department will determine the charges to be filed against the storeowners, who are still to be summoned and asked to explain.
“They will be investigated and whether they will be charged or not will depend upon the findings of the investigation,” he added.
According to Dalisay, the NFA has been inspecting public markets on a daily basis after news of the supposed presence of synthetic rice in the Philippines broke out in Davao City.
“My instruction is, since we have been conducting inspections daily, to immediately have rice of questionable quality tested,” he said.
Initial tests conducted by the NFA-Food Development Center in Taguig City on the rice samples obtained from Davao City showed the presence of a plasticizer contaminant called dibutyl phthalate (DBP). The chemical is usually used in the manufacture of cosmetics.
Dalisay said the NFA has coordinated with the health department and the Food and Drug Administration to analyze the starch content of the samples and determine the presence of heavy metals.
Pangilinan said DBP is considered harmful if ingested in large amounts but is not lethal in small amounts.
The initial microscopic test conducted on samples from Davao established that it contained starch, just like the NFA rice it was compared to. However, it still has to be determined if the starch is that of rice or of some other grain, like corn and potatoes. Fake rice is reportedly made from potatoes, sweet potatoes and resin.
Synthetic or fake rice is allegedly manufactured in China and is distributed in Asian countries such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines. The rice is said to last up to three weeks without spoiling after being cooked.
Dalisay said fresh laboratory results on the samples would be released soon.
“Every week we will come out with an advisory. We will just confer with other agencies,” he said.