A FARMERS’ association said the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) plan to track agricultural imports with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags is better suited to high-value packaged goods and not bulk shipments.

Federation of Free Farmers National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said via mobile phone that the RFID-based track-and-trace system is “best for pre-packaged high-value products like meats. But not feasible for low-value bulk items like rice and corn or even fruits and vegetables,” Mr. Montemayor said.

 “How will it detect smuggled rice if (these shipments) will not have RFID tags? Once legally imported rice is re-bagged, will they require RFID tags on smaller packages? How much will the tags cost? (It is) better to just license importers, require them to submit regular reports of sales and transfers, and then do spot checking of warehouses,” Mr. Montemayor said.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Executive Director Jayson H. Cainglet said the RFID system is not compliant with Republic Act No. 10611, or the Food Safety Act, which requires inspection at the port of first entry.

Mr. Cainglet said in a statement Sunday that even if the imported farm product has RFID and can be easily tracked by the DA, it has entered the country already.

He added that the DA should focus on imported meat to guard against the entry of amid the prevalence of African Swine Fever and highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu).  

On Nov. 25, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar signed Memorandum Order No. 71 directing the adoption of RFID for farm imports, starting with rice.  

“The objective of adopting a track and trace system is to ensure food safety of imported agricultural produce by ensuring the traceability of their origin. It also aims at the mitigation of smuggling of agricultural produce via a real-time monitoring system of goods,” Mr. Dar said in the memorandum order.  

“Due to the recent coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF), and other emerging zoogenic diseases, there is a need to improve our food safety measures by ensuring the traceability of the origin of imported agricultural products,” he added.

 On Nov. 26, the DA forged a memorandum of agreement with the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority for the establishment of the country’s first cold examination facility in agriculture (CEFA) at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

“The CEFA will enable 100% in-depth inspection of containerized animal, fish, and plant commodities identified through the risk assessment categorization, and complemented by the X-ray screening of the Bureau of Customs which will be subject to sampling and laboratory testing,” the DA said. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave