Sugar Board asks for 'more time' to decide on HFCS issue

AMID the series of protests, the Sugar Board has asked for more time to resolve the call of industry stakeholders to regulate the importation of
high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) head Anna Rosario Paner, who met with protestors at the SRA Office in Bacolod City Friday, said they are going through a process, including consultations, that they request for understanding from the stakeholders.

Allow us to deliberate on the matter for a few more weeks, she added.

Paner and three other members of the Sugar Board, including Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol as chairman, will meet in Ormoc City on February 17.

“If you ask me of SRA’s stand, let me defer it first to the Board. I cannot preempt the position of other members,” she said. “Whatever the result of the deliberation, it would be a milestone for the sugar industry.

Paner added: “We will implement whatever the directive of the Board is. Certain rules will be spelled out for everybody’s guidance.”

Sugar industry leaders and multi-sectoral groups have been opposing the unabated importation of HFCS as sugar substitute in recent years, saying it is killing the industry.

Negros produces 60 percent of the country’s sugar output.

About 100 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and farmers staged a protest rally in front of the Bacolod bottling plant of Coca-Cola, which sugar industry stakeholders said is using HFCS in their softdrink products.

They also joined at least 200 members of the Kilusang Pagbabago-Negros Island Region (KP-NIR), Sugar Solidarity Against High Fructose Corn Syrup (SSA-HFCS), and other multi-sectoral groups who massed up outside of the SRA Office.

The action called on beverage companies to stop using HFCS as it is already affecting the industry especially the small farmers who suffer due to the low price of sugar, agrarian reform beneficiary leader Ranie Lava said.

Lawyer Archie Baribar, spokesperson of KP-NIR, presented their petition and position paper demanding the SRA to exercise its power under Executive Order No. 18 to regulate the importation of HFCS.

Baribar said they are drafting a proposal for the Office of the President, asking that the SRA take jurisdiction over HFCS.

“We cannot afford to just wait for the result of the deliberation of the Sugar Board. Thus, prior to this we will continue to ask Malacañang to provide us an audience, not necessarily the President, to concentrate on this matter,” he added.

For her part, Paner said: “I did not make the statement saying that SRA has no jurisdiction over HFCS importation.”

Paner added that, in fact, even before the February 17 board meeting, she promised to Baribar to bring the concern to the attention of the Sugar Board, Department of Agriculture, and President Rodrigo Duterte.

“I am pleased to receive the manifesto of KP, assuring them that I will personally bring it up with our secretary and the president as soon as I get back to Manila,” she added.

Moreover, the SRA cannot yet validate the figures released earlier by sugar planters, showing P25-billion in opportunity losses for this crop year due to HFCS importation.

Paner said she is certain that if HFCS displaces locally produced sugar, there will really be industry losses.
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