A TOXICOLOGIST from the University of Philippines-Manila yesterday raised his concern about the safety of rice distributed to the public by the National Food Authority (NFA).

Dr. Romeo Quijano, president of the Pesticide Action Network Philippines, said the rice the government has imported from Vietnam could possibly be contaminated by residual toxins from Agent Orange, which the United States used against Vietnamese insurgents during the Vietnam War.

During a lecture in Cebu City, Dr. Quijano said the NFA should subject the imported rice to chemical tests, to ensure it does not have toxic contents, particularly dioxin, the most hazardous substance found in Agent Orange.

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“A lot of areas in Vietnam are contaminated with this toxic chemical and if we import agricultural products from Vietnam, we should at least have these products tested. But as far as I know, hindi ginagawa yan (those tests are not being done). We have to consider the possibility that these agricultural products, including rice, are contaminated,” he said.

The government, he added, has the obligation to ensure the safety of imported foodstuff, while “it is also the obligation of private companies who import rice from Vietnam to ensure the rice is not contaminated.”

The NFA, he said, should also stop spraying insecticides on the sacks of “rotting” rice in its warehouses.

During the 888 News Forum last Aug. 2, Director Danilo Bunabon of the NFA 7 said they have to spray chemicals to protect millions of bags of rice in their warehouses against infestation.

However, Bunabon said the chemicals NFA is using are certified safe for use on rice by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), the government agency that regulates food products.

“Those (chemicals) that are found by FDA to have adverse effects on human health are banned and are not allowed to be used on food. For NFA, using chemicals that can affect the health of the people is a big crime,” Bunabon said.

Quijano was in Cebu yesterday to give a lecture on the “precautionary principle” to representatives of different sectors.

The “precautionary principle”, as stated in the 1992 Rio Declaration, states that “whenever there is a serious threat to health and environment, lack of scientific certainty should not postpone cost-effective measures to prevent them.”

Quijano said the government can address the problem of importing “possibly” contaminated rice by giving incentives to Filipino farmers, who, if given enough leverage, could produce enough food.

“The poor suffer the consequences [of consuming contaminated agricultural products] because they have no choice,” he said.

During his State of the Nation Address last month, President Benigno Aquino III said NFA warehouses are filled with sacks of rotting rice, because the Arroyo administration imported far too much in buffer stocks. (RSB/With EOB)