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Piñol orders labeling of ‘natural’ and ‘synthetic’ vinegars

MANILA -- Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol on Tuesday directed the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) to set norms for vinegar manufacturing, with only sour condiments produced through natural fermentation process should be labeled “vinegar” or “suka.”

“As Secretary of Agriculture and a consumer, I will not dip my fingers into the health issues involved in using ‘non-biogenic vinegar’ because those are beyond my competence. But there are legitimate issues which I have to raise to protect our local vinegar-makers and the consumers as well,” said Piñol in a press briefing on Tuesday.

Piñol noted that the DA has always assumed that vinegar is understood as a product of a natural fermentation process using agricultural products such as the use of coconut sap or water, and sugar cane juice as the main ingredient for the production of vinegar.

“The dictionary defines vinegar as ‘a sour-tasting liquid containing acetic acid, obtained by fermenting dilute alcoholic liquids, typically wine, cider, or beer, and used as a condiment or for pickling.’ The definition does not say -- ‘or any other sour condiment produced from synthetic materials which are by-products of fossil-fuel processing’,” he said.

Any other product which offers the “sour” taste but is not a product of a natural fermentation process should be properly labeled as such -- synthetic acetic acid or “sour non-biogenic” condiment, he added.

Thus, Piñol said that as Secretary of Agriculture, “sour condiments made out of synthetic or non-biogenic acetic acid should not be labeled as ‘vinegar’ or ‘suka’.

The DA initiated an inter-agency meeting on Monday to address the issue of acetic acid-based commercial vinegar sold in the market and came up with three resolutions:

Based on the testimonies of a chemist and toxicologist, Dr. Flerida Carino, and the Department of Health (DOH), synthetic acetic acid-based vinegar is “not totally unsafe”;

The classification standards for commercial vinegar sold in the market will now be “biogenic” for those which use acetic acid produced through a natural fermentation process and “non-biogenic” for those which are made out of synthetic compounds;

The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) said it does not have the mandate to release the names of the brands found to contain “non-biogenic” acetic acid while the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it will await the submission by PNRI of its complete study for validation before it will release the list of the vinegar brands.

Meanwhile, Piñol said he believes that there is simply no legal or moral basis for FDA to withhold the release of the “sour condiment” brands which PNRI found using non-biogenic acetic acid.

“The release of the names will not only be in compliance with the Consumer Protection laws but also the observance of that very basic provision in the Philippine Constitution which bestows upon every Filipino the Right to Know,” he noted.

“The list of the ‘non-biogenic sour condiments’ being passed off as vinegar in the market, whether they are safe for human consumption or not, should be released now, otherwise, government could expect a lot of lawsuits,” he added. (PNA)

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