IMPORTS of mechanically deboned meat (MDM) from Dutch poultry have been allowed to resume if the region or origin in the Netherlands is free of highly pathogenic avian influenza (bird flu), the Department of Agriculture said.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar signed a memorandum order on April 6 that permitted the import of poultry MDM from bird flu-free Dutch regions as listed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

Mr. Dar said the order grants the request of meat processors.

“Appeals have been made by the meat processing sector for the Department of Agriculture (DA) to reconsider the acceptance of (imports from bird flu-free regions), in order to address the shortage of affordable MDM,” Mr. Dar said in the memorandum order.

The DA had issued a memorandum order on Jan. 11 that suspended all poultry imports from the Netherlands due to outbreaks of the H5N8 bird flu strain in Utrecht, Friesland, and Zuid-Holland.

According to the new memorandum order, a team composed of representatives from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) will be created to inspect domestic meat processing plants with thermal processing equipment on-site.

The DA said accredited meat processors that were inspected and found compliant will be allowed to import poultry MDM from bird flu-free zones in the Netherlands.

Each shipment will undergo review before the issuance of the sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance (SPSIC).

“The poultry meat shipment must be sourced from one meat establishment only. Multiple sources of meat establishments for each poultry shipment shall not be allowed,” according to the order.

Before the departure of the shipments, the DA said attestations should be included to confirm that the MDM imports were sourced from bird flu-free areas, slaughtered in an approved abattoir, produced in a bird flu-free zone, adhered to OIE guidelines, and tested negative for bird flu.

Meanwhile, the order also disclosed requirements from local meat importers and processors such as the identification of one DA-accredited cold storage warehouse to be used solely for storing poultry MDM imports from the Netherlands, and that MDM imports should only go to licensed meat processing plants that have thermal processing facilities, among others.

The DA said the issuance of SPSICs will be suspended if poultry MDM imports are found to have been sold online or in wet markets.

“Unannounced visits to meat processing plants may also be conducted by veterinary authorities to ensure compliance with government regulations and other food safety policies, while random sample collection of MDM shall be conducted by NMIS plant officers for detection of the presence of bird flu,” according to the order.

Jesus C. Cham, Meat Importers and Traders Association president, said in a mobile phone message that the easing of import restrictions is a step in the right direction.

“We hope it goes further. If products are certified and tested to be free of bird flu, why should there be any restrictions at all? OIE guidelines are to just ban the affected zones. Now we have added a layer of protection by product testing. So all poultry products, not just MDM should be allowed access to markets and consumers,” Mr. Cham said.

However, Mr. Cham said only a number of processors will be able to meet the requirements set by the DA such as the availability of thermal processing equipment.

“Only a few processors can manage. All of the small processors will be shut out unfortunately. These are the ones who serve mainly the lower C, D, and E segments,” Mr. Cham said.

Philippine Association of Meat Processors, Inc. Vice-President Jerome D. Ong welcomed the partial lifting of the import ban, noting that the easing in policy still complies with OIE and World Trade Organization principles.

“On the whole, the conditions are very stringent, so we will wait if exporters can ship even with additional cost, especially on the testing requirement that will surely drive up the price of MDM,” Mr. Ong said in a mobile phone message.

“Without lifting the countrywide bans on the UK and Germany, the reopening of Poland, and the accreditation of new plants in Hungary and Brazil, the supply of MDM will remain inadequate and hinder the processed meat industry from fully supplying the needs of the country at affordable prices,” he added.

According to the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), chicken MDM imports from the Netherlands amounted to 115.05 million kilograms in 2020, equivalent to 42% of the total imports. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave