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Worried meat processors ‘have a beef’ with checkpoint enforcers

/ 04:30 AM March 21, 2020

Meat processors fear a shortage of canned goods in Luzon next month, if raw materials keep getting blocked at checkpoints because authorities do not consider them essential to food production.

The Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (Pampi) wrote Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on Friday, asking for his help after two member companies had shut down operations.

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After reviewing their current production and inventory, they said the finished goods and raw materials in their plants would only be good for 15 days at most, according to a copy of the letter seen by the Inquirer.

“We expect that by the first week of April, our inventories will run out without adequate new production, along with those in possession of distributors [and] retailers. Thus, we anticipate severe shortage of our goods by mid-April,” it read.

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Pampi’s member companies include Century Pacific, the company behind brands like Century Tuna and 555, as well as CDO Foodsphere Inc.

The two companies, for example, only have less than 15 days and 11 days worth of inventory left, respectively, the letter said. Pampi has confirmed the letter, but said it was intended only for Lopez, not for the public.

The meat processors’ appeal for help came as the Duterte administration imposed an enhanced community quarantine, or a lockdown, on Luzon to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the acute respiratory disease COVID-19.

The group said there was problematic implementation of the quarantine guidelines, which had disrupted the meat processing industry at a time when there was an overwhelming demand for food.

Only cargoes deemed essential like food and medicine are allowed through government checkpoints. The government said these should be unhampered.

But because the authorities do not have a clear grasp of how even the smallest part in the supply chain is important for food production, the definition of what is considered essential varies.

‘We are linked’

“What’s hindering the manufacturing operations now is the packaging materials. The local government units manning the checkpoints don’t recognize the tin can, the label, and the flexible film as inputs to food production,” said Pampi spokesperson Rex Agarrado in a phone interview.

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He said the government should include the packaging industry among the businesses exempted from the quarantine.

“The government should also allow the exemption of workers in the packaging industry because we are all linked. If we have a production, but we don’t have tin cans or any label, then supermarkets don’t get their products,” Agarrado said.

Pampi told Lopez that ingredients for meat products also had problems getting past checkpoints. Company shuttles for plant employee are also being stopped, it said.

Lopez told reporters there were just “implementation glitches” on the first two days of the quarantine.

“But cargo movement has already improved on day 3 onward,” he said.

In a separate statement to the Inquirer, Pampi said there was no reason for the public to panic, even as the country faces a crisis it was not prepared for.

“While there are indeed difficulties in replenishing our stocks of canned and processed goods, nobody is really prepared for a crisis of this proportion. And while we do encounter problems at the checkpoints, ongoing talks with the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) as well as other government agencies prove to be very fruitful,” it said.

Pampi hoped that local governments would observe the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to smoothen the process.

“So there is no reason to panic. Our companies are working day and night to put food on the table while making sure our people are safe,” the statement said.

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TAGS: Checkpoint, Coronavirus, COVID-19, DTI, Food, Food supply, Meat processors, PAMPI, Ramon Lopez
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