By Bernadette E. Tamayo | Journal Online
SENATOR Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has alerted the government against profiteers who may capitalize on the scare caused by fake rice on the market and hike prices.
Marcos, member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, warned that unscrupulous rice traders might hoard rice supplies and create an artificial shortage to push up retail prices.
“This situation is not improbable and it has happened before in different situations. Given the creativeness of some dishonest rice traders who defraud the consumers to make money, the possibility of hoarding is not far-fetched,” said Marcos.
“Government authorities should constantly monitor the supplies and prices of rice in the market and nip in the bud any attempt to exploit the situation,” he said. Marcos warned that once fake rice shortage is created, rice dealers might jack up rice prices at retail outlets. He said the government should be one step ahead of these scammers and protect consumers.
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, headed by Sen. Cynthia Villar, is set to investigate the reported entry of “fake rice” from China, particularly into Davao, amid concerns that it is harmful to one’s health if consumed.
Fake rice, which was also reported in neighboring countries China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam, has allegedly reached Philippine shores, with a reported discovery in Davao del Sur.
Reports said the synthetic rice is made of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and plastic, shaped into grains. Materials found in pipes and cables were also used in this type of rice. She recalled that during the last Senate hearing on rice smuggling, the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) committed not to issue import permit to private individuals.
“If ever we are going to import rice, it should be government to government through NFA. So, kung nasunod ‘yun, dapat walang importation of rice na katulad nito, fake rice. Of course, baka naman ini-smuggle na nila, hindi na sila kumuha ng import permit sa NFA,” said Villar in an earlier media forum.
“We will have a hearing sa July 13, Monday, and we will call the NFA, DA (Department of Agriculture), Bureau of Customs, DoJ (Department of Justice) and maybe our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) para ma-confirm kung ano ba itong klaseng rice na ito,” she said.
Villar added:”Hindi naman tayo expert to determine kung anong klaseng rice (ito). We have to understand kung ano ang implication ng fake rice sa atin. We have always emphasized that food safety is always important.”
She earlier urged the DA and the NFA to look into the reported proliferation of synthetic rice in the country. Health experts have warned that consuming such fake grains could be deadly or could cause serious damage to the digestive system, she said.
“Obviously, the manufacturer of fake rice is doing this in the name of profit. We heard this is cheaper to produce and looks very much like the farm-grown rice. Our fear is that many of our kababayan will not be able to tell the difference and will be deceived into buying this cheaper type,” said Villar.
“A nationwide inspection by DA and NFA should be conducted on warehouses and rice shops to identify the illegal peddlers of fake rice and make sure they will be severely penalized under existing laws. Special attention must be given to small shops in rural areas, where fake rice could be discreetly sold,” she said.
She expects the DA to submit the official report on the matter. “The Bureau of Customs and the Coast Guard should also continue guarding our ports for the possible illegal entry of fake rice. We should be mindful that this type could be mixed with normal rice,” she said.
She also said an information campaign should be immediately launched to teach the public how to identify fake rice and to encourage consumers to report its presence to authorities.
“Maraming magkakamali dito at ang sabi pa nga, one week na daw hindi pa napapanis ang kanin. Magmadali tayo dito dahil parang kumakain ka ng plastic kapag ito ang kinain mo,” she said.
If enacted into law, Villar added the smuggling of fake rice will be declared as economic sabotage under the bill she authored, Senate Bill No. 2765 or the Anti Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2015.