As our government exerts efforts to regain market access for pili nuts in Europe as well as present business opportunities for pili in the European Union (EU) market, the Department of Agriculture-Bicol Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (AMAD) hosted the “Better Training for Safer Food: a Re-echo Webinar on the European Union (EU) Rules Applicable to the Authorization and Placing on the Market of Novel Food and Traditional Foods Coming from non-EU Countries” on September 11, 2020.  This is to keep pili industry stakeholders abreast with current market trends and trade protocols and regulations.

The activity gathered pili producers and processors as well as concerned representatives from local government units and government agencies, including the DA High Value Crops Development Program (HVCDP), Albay Research and Development Center (ARDC), AMAD, and the Department of Science and Technology in Bicol.

According to AMAD Chief Adelina A. Losa, who was among the DA team who attended a similar training in Bangkok, Thailand in early February 2020, the activity was also designed to raise awareness and better understanding on existing EU rules pertinent to the authorization and placing of novel food on the EU market. She added that the Philippines is currently working on the completion of a dossier or data package on pili nuts which would comply with the European Commission’s (EC) traditional food regulations.

EU Regulation 2015/2283 of the European Parliament and of the Council or the New Novel Food Regulation (EU) issued on November 25, 2015 lays down the rules for the placing of novel foods on the EU market. Novel food refers to food that has not been used for human consumption to any significant degree in the EU before May 15, 1997. Pili nut, as an export product in the EU has been blocked and temporarily stopped following the said regulation. 

The webinar re-echoed the seminar on EU regulations for novel food and traditional foods coming from non-EU countries held in Bangkok, Thailand. Dr. Jocelyn M. Sales, Director of the National Food Authority Food Development Center gave an introduction about novel foods and traditional foods from third world countries. She highlighted the main principles of the novel food regulation which put emphasis on consumer safety, proper labelling, and nutritional quality. Losa, on the other hand, discussed the procedure for determination of novel food status, the consultation request on the novel food status of a food or ingredient, and novel food application preparation.

Jay-R Millanes, senior agriculturist at the Bureau of Plant Industry National Plant Quarantine Services Division shared information on the process of preparation of a traditional food dossier along with the workflow and deadlines. He also discussed the EU rules applicable to the authorization and placing on the market of incoming novel foods from non-EU countries including the Philippines. Rivka Hanna S. Pintuan, Foreign Research Specialist at the the DA International Affairs Division European Desk lectured on the authorization procedure.  Amelita Natividad, Supervising Science Research Specialist at the DA Food Development Center talked about the European Commission’s online system for submitting a dossier as well as the regulations for novel food labelling.

André Wielink, managing partner of Frischebox GMBH based in Germany, whose business is in the importation and distribution of nuts and seeds in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Spain, provided an overview on the hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) quality standards in Europe. He mentioned that the HACCP system serves as basis for International Featured Standard or food and product standards which help ensure that companies certified to IFS standards produce a product that conforms to the specifications agreed with the customer and work continuously on process improvement. Wielink also discussed the Global GAP quality assurance and certification system for agriculture as well as the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) standards. Moreover, he cited the general requirements of Food Law EU, European control system, import controls and regulations for the systematic control of vegetable foodstuffs on import into the European Union, regular controls of food authority and risk factors for nuts. Furthermore, he showed a sample product technical data sheet which requires product information, ingredients information (allergenic potential), chemical, biological and physical parameters, nutritional value (energy, fat, carbohydrate, dietary fiber, protein, salt), packaging, shelf life, and storage conditions.

“You did a tremendous job in preparing all these documents and being interested for getting pili nuts introduced into the European market… Manufacturers and retailers from all over the world are now working with the various standards in order to meet the new requirements of globalization with quality, transparency and efficiency,” Wielink said.

Jerome Bunyi, Agriculture Counsellor-Designate at the Embassy of the Philippines in Belgium and Luxembourg and Mission to the European Union Philippine Agriculture Office, noted that organic certification is the direction that he would like Philippine producers and authorities to look forward to with the increasing sophistication of the EU regulations especially that the Green Deal is about to further increase the focus to organic production consumption in Europe.

Currently, the DA team is waiting for the results of the FDC and BPI’s safety assessments such as nutritional analysis, aflatoxin analysis, heavy metals analysis and microbial analysis. Results of which will be included in the dossier together with some documents for the gap analysis on pili nut’s history of use. The DA team is collecting materials and recipes published in the Philippines in addition to those already published by DA-Bicol to prove that pili nut is safe for consumption for the last 25 years.

A similar webinar and follow-up meeting will be conducted on September 25, 2020 to fast-track the dossier preparation. Once finalized, the Philippine government through the DA will submit the application to the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) for evaluation and for approval by the European Commission member states. Pili is a fruit tree crop indigenous in the Philippines particularly in the Bicol region. As of 2015, the Philippines is the only country known for commercial production and processing of pili-based food products and by-products, with Bicol contributing 80 percent of the total output volume. Pili is considered as one of the country’s most important nut tree crop next to cashew. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V with reports from Patrocinio B. Collao I, DA-Bicol AMAD)