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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Food safety and healthful food will be focus of this year’s National Research Symposium

The Department of Agriculture- Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) has stepped up a food safety and healthy food program with heightened budget for their research and development which will be the focus of this year’s National Research Symposium (NRS).

With food poisoning cases and outbreaks of food borne and nutrient deficiency-related illnesses coming up unexpectedly from time to time, DA-BAR has pushed for more research and development (R&D) works with increased concentration on food safety and healthy food.

“Food safety policies must be supported and sustained by comprehensive access to recent, accurate, and scientific information. Food safety and health-related researches should be continuously undertaken which will aid us in a timely and informed decision in our food production programs,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.

BAR’s R&D program, which for this year’s NRS has an emphasis on “Harnessing Research for Safe and Healthy Food and Agri-Fishery Products,” has proven to be successful with an 80 percent increase in R&D papers filed this year. This involves 126 papers filed from the previous year’s only 70.

Outstanding papers, finalists in the R&D NRS contest, will be presented at the NRS on October 10 and 11, 2011 at BAR Building in Elliptical Circle, Quezon City.

Cash prize for winning R&D papers was doubled by 100 percent to P100,000 for the Agriculture and Fishery Modernization Act (AFMA) Best R&D Award from P50,000 previously. The former prize of P35,000 for the first runner up is now raised to P75,000 while the second runner up will receive P50,000 from P25,000 last year.

An intensive promotion of BAR on the importance of R&D contributed to an increase in papers presented. More DA-attached agencies have also been engaging in R&D works as DA Sec. Proceso J. Alcala has supported the development of new farming technologies, according to BAR Applied Communication Chief Julia A. Lapitan.

“State universities and colleges used to have a predominance in our NRS R&D program. Now DA agencies have come up with outstanding researches. We need good research even in estimating our food production particularly for rice so that we can assure food security for our people,” Lapitan said.

DA has supported agricultural enterprises’ adoption of globally-recognized food certification systems like the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP). This will guarantee food safety of Philippine products. On top of that, good food safety practices will raise Philippines’ agricultural export revenue since discriminating markets like the US, Japan, and Europe requires stringent food production processes.

Safe food preparation practices are being continuously intensified in Europe even as a serious outbreak of an illness caused by a novel strain of E. coli just occurred in Germany in the first half the year. As of July 2011, this food-borne illness’s outbreak in Germany involved a reported 3,785 cases and 45 deaths.

On the production of healthful products, BAR has also pursued R&D on the expansion of herbals and essential oils after considering their unique potential arising from a global health and wellness craze.

“Plants have healing and beautifying elements. These contain natural colors, inherent preservatives, oils and exudates (fluid with healing effects on inflamed parts) for health and food-enhancing benefits,” according to BAR Digest Head Rita T. dela Cruz.

The market for health and wellness products has been rising as phytotherapeutical sales in the United States alone was placed at $4.41 billion as of 2005. That trend in the US should impact on the Philippines.

“With the Philippines making a pitch on medical tourism, demand for herbal products is expected to steadily rise,” according to the IPHW plan.

The priority crops in BAR’s Indigenous Plants for Health and Wellness (IPHW) program include oregano, zingibers, citronella, tanglad, seed oils, malarayap, Four o’clock, luyang dilaw, pakingan, katuray, alugbati, annatto, barberry, cashew, pili, coffee singkamas, papaya, and duhat.

“Worldwide there is an increasing demand for food phytochemicals which due to their functional properties can be developed as cosmeceutical and nutraceutical ingredients for application in the skin and hair health care, foods, and pharmaceutical industries,” reported BAR.

Government is exploring the potential of indigenous plants for health and wellness which may grow with ecotourism. The Spa Association of the Philippines (SAPI) believes demand for these products are increasing with more tourists coming into the country.

The IPHW plans to put up gene banks and an herbarium collection for these essential oils and herbals project. It intends to pilot test technologies for their farming best practices.

Despite Philippines’ high biodiversity rate as a habitat for 13,500 species of higher vascular plants, attrition rate for certain flora and fauna species eyed for medicinal herbals is high.

Related to these herbs and essential oils is the spice industry which the IPHW plans to likewise boost.

The Philippines was noted to have imported from 2000 to 2005 spices at between 510 to 1,215 metric tons (MT) yearly valued at $900,000 to $2.2 million. Export of spices was smaller at only 12 to 249 MT valued at $40,000 to $400,000.

“The high cost of producing the crop is an issue that has often been raised in relation to cheaper counterparts. Appropriate use of crop variety and proper application of cultivation methods and postharvest handling techniques need to be addressed,” said the IPHW.

Important crops in spices include annatto, anis, sesame, kasubha, pandan, native bawang and onions, siling labuyo, yerba buena, piper species, begonia, and papait. Ms. Julia A. Lapitan, DA-BAR

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