By Madelaine B. Miraflor
It only takes one decision from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the Philippines’ seaweed products to continue making headway in the United States (US). And several position papers later, the Philippine government finally won.
USDA announced recently that carrageenan, a naturally occurring seaweed-derived substance, will remain in their list of approved additives in organic food.
The announcement was made in the 2018 Sunset Review of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which found merit in public comments supporting the renewal of carrageenan in the National List of Allowed Substances of the USDA.
The comments, which were formed in part by two science-based position papers sent by the Philippine government through the Department of Agriculture to the USDA, refuted the health and environment-related assertions made by the National Organic Coalition (NOC) against carrageenan and argued for the substance as an irreplaceable, allowable ingredient.
Banking on the best available scientific information, the papers served detailed explanation to NOC, justifying that the coalition’s claims are based on inconclusive scientific arguments and are mere extrapolations of findings derived from flawed research and misinformed perceptions of the state of seaweed production in the country.
Right now, the Philippines remains as the top exporter of carrageenan to the United States with over 28.1 million dollars’ worth of exports as of 2017, according to the USDA-Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS).
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said that the position papers — a joint effort between scientists from the University of the Philippines (UP) and the DA-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) — have convincingly addressed the issues raised by the coalition.
He then acknowledged Thailand Minister Grisada Boonrach, Chairman of the 39th Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (AMAF) for his support in the ASEAN’s endorsement of the position papers to USDA Secretary George Ervin Perdue III.
“The decision will surely benefit the lives of some three million seaweed farmers in the [ASEAN] region and will further promote trade in carrageenan from among ASEAN Member States,” Piñol told Boonrach.
The DA-BFAR also acknowledged the active involvement of the Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines (SIAP) for sharing important information and their effort to enjoin the support of the ASEAN Seaweeds Industry Council.