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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

‘No-nationality’ galunggong causes uproar over import plan

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Round scad or “galunggong” do not have a “nationality,” and thus Filipinos should have no problems with this variety of fish that is imported from other countries to augment the local food supply, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Tuesday.

However, Senator Cynthia A. Villar exhorted the public not to eat galunggong—once regarded in the country as the poor man’s fish—as it could be laced with formalin or embalming fluid.

In responding to critics of the government’s move to import galunggong, Piñol told ANC Headstart the Philippines has long imported many types of fish to augment its supply especially during the closed fishing season.

“In 2017 alone, the country imported 130,000 metric tons of fish and nobody complained,” Piñol told the cable television program. “This year, another three-billion fingerling will be bought from Indonesia.”

“We have been importing and this idea of Chinese galunggong, Taiwanese galunggong, Vietnamese galunggong—galunggongs don’t have nationality,” he said.

“The galunggong from China doesn’t have chinky eyes. That’s the same galunggongs swimming in the waters that we share with these countries, they just catch it. What’s the problem with that?” Pinol added.

The agriculture chief also allayed fears that galunggong currently available in local markets were

laced with formalin, saying traces of formaldehyde in fish did not necessarily mean that it had embalming fluid, which makes it appear fresh.

But in yesterday’s Senate hearing of the agriculture and food committee, Villar reminded officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources that importing galunggong is illegal, and warned that this could amount to smuggling since the country had no previous shortage of round scad.

“You said there’s formalin in round scad fish. Let’s just eat vegetables. I can’t understand who to believe anymore. Better safe than sorry, let’s just not eat round scad fish,” said the senator, who chairs the committee.

Sammy Malvas, BFAR deputy director for administrative services, said the country is importing galunggong for “canning” and “processing.” But when Villar asked him to provide examples of such products, Malvas only said “tinapa” or smoked fish, leading to a firm rebuke from the senator.

“I’ve never heard of that importation to make it into smoked fish. Why are you importing galunggong when there’s no…. It’s not allowed under the law unless there’s a shortage of fish. Why import? It is against the law. That’s smuggling,” Villar said.

“You are just saying that you are importing for processing but you are really importing it for the wet market. We should not be importing for wet markets,” she added.

To solve the apparent fish shortage, the DA is helping increase production in fish pens, Piñol said.

The agriculture sector “should not be blamed for quickening inflation,” he added. “Agriculture only reacts to inflationary developments like fuel.”

At a suggested retail price of P140 per kilo in some markets, galunggong has approached prices of chicken, the secretary acknowledged. But Villar noted that the fish is actually being sold for P170 to P200 per kilo.

While saying the government’s new tax reform program could be blamed for faster inflation, Piñol said what the administration failed to prepare for “is the speculative effect of the TRAIN law.”

“When we checked, the production cost actually barely increased, less than 1 percent but in the market, it was [raised] 5 to 10 percent. The market speculated and I think what we should focus on right now is the market,” he said.

Villar, meanwhile, listed the creation of more fishing facilities as a legislative priority, saying marine hatcheries, fish ports, training and research facilities are needed to help address the fish shortage and shore up food supply in the country.

“Building more facilities to improve our fish farming capabilities is one of the long-term solutions we need in order to improve our productivity.  Many of our traditional fishing grounds are getting overfished and we need to create breeding grounds and hatcheries to help arrest the dwindling fish stock,” the senator said.

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