The country’s food and water industry sectors may no longer have to import expensive reference materials (RMs) abroad for use in laboratories that test their products so they will be able to pass international trade standards.

RMs are already available in the Philippines. The first Metrology in Chemistry (MiC) Laboratory in the country that produces RMs was inaugurated on November 9.

Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña (second from left), Trade and Investment Secretary
Ramon Lopez (third from left) and DOST Undersecretary Rowena Cristina L. Guevara listen to an
expert in the newly inaugurated Metrology in Chemistry Laboratory.

Science Secretary Fortunato T. de la Peña said the establishment of MiC Lab “is a testament to that unyielding, unwavering, indomitable Filipino spirit, which is proudly, loudly proclaiming to the world—we are ready” to compete with other countries.

Established by the Industrial Technology Development Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-ITDI), the 1900 m2, four-story MiC Laboratory is on Saliksik Street in the Science Complex in Bicutan, Taguig City.

DOST-ITDI created the MiC Laboratory to help local testing laboratories comply with traceable chemical measurements by producing RMs and conducting accuracy-based Proficiency Testing schemes.

RMs support the results of measurement laboratories by ensuring that commodities can pass stringent international trade standards on food quality and control.

International standards; lower costs

With the highly characterized, authenticated control materials, such as RMs, that are vital in food testing finally available through the MiC Lab, it will help local products pass international trade standards, thus, reduce the recall of export products, which is too costly and damaging for the country’s economy.

The MiC Laboratory will also help to cut the costs of local food and water industries from purchasing RMs abroad.

Currently, most Philippine food manufacturers rely on RMs imported from overseas, such as from the US, UK, Japan, China and Thailand.

Besides, the RMs are expensive, costing from P15,000 to P30,000 per one material per food product. At the same time, they are updated continually so the prices rise with it.

State-of-the-art facility

DOST-ITDI Director Dr. Annabelle V.  Briones, admitted that “it took us quite a while, a decade actually, to establish our chemical testing services and house it in one of the most economically vital and heavily invested infrastructures in metrology.”

Dr. Benilda S. Ebarvia, the former project leader of the MiC Team, conceptualized the establishment of the laboratory, with the guidance of the past and current DOST-ITDI directors, Dr. Patricia Azanza and Dr. Annabelle Vuelban Briones, respectively.

Ebarva explained that chemical testing and production of RMs, or referencing, is time-consuming because it requires skills that need to be learned and honed through the years.

“RM development has to be matched with appropriate, state of the art—that means very expensive—equipment, and staff who will be using the equipment and devices have to be trained to use, maintain, and troubleshoot the same,” she explained.

Incidentally, Ebarvia was awarded the 2019 Developing Economies National Metrology Institute Award in rites at Le Montage in Sydney, Australia, on December 4, 2019. Ebarvia was the first DEN winner for the Philippines. She bested others from 16 countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

RMs for trace presence now locally available

DOST-ITDI has already developed RMs on trace presence of toxic metals in drinking water—such as manganese, nickel, cobalt and iron—benzoic acid in banana catsup, sulfite as a preservative in dried mango, and histamine (a chemical indication of food spoilage) in dried salinas fish.

The science agency hopes to complete this year the development of 15 RMs on trace presence of pesticides in fresh mango, and other fruits and vegetables; the presence of veterinary drug residues, such as salbutamol in pork meat; and 3-Amino-5-morpholino ethyl-2-oxazolidone, or AMOZ in fish, among others.

DOST-ITDI’s early works are the RMs on the presence of trace heavy metals in water—such as lead, cadmium, copper, iron, manganese, nickel, zinc, cobalt, and magnesium. An RM on calcium, a reactive metal in water, was developed.

These metals are toxic and are noted for their potential toxicity in the environment.

De la Peña: ‘We are ready’

De la Peña expressed delight that the DOST is finally opening the MiC Laboratory to the public, exactly four years after its groundbreaking ceremony in 2018.

“Just like a child presented with a new toy on Christmas, I am incredibly excited about this new service facility,” he said in his message at the opening ceremonies which he attended in person.

“The MiC Laboratory is a testament not only to our Department’s efforts to boost and facilitate fair trade between the Philippines and other countries: it is a testament to that unyielding, unwavering, indomitable Filipino spirit, which is proudly, loudly proclaiming to the world—we are ready,” he pointed out.

He recalled that it was in 2012 when forward-looking researchers conceptualized the MiC project.

He disclosed that the RMs are distributed “free of charge nationwide” to different public and private chemical testing laboratories for measurement and quality control schemes and proficiency testing programs.

“We can never overemphasize the importance of accurate and reliable chemical measurements, especially today as we collectively recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he added. “We want to assure our public that your good health and safety remain paramount in our minds.”

Product recalls pose significant economic burdens, he said. When these recalls are traced, such as in canned tuna fish, a public health scare can lead to epidemiological tracking of determinants of the disease conditions.

However, this is not only scary, he said, it is also time-consuming, expensive and damaging to the canned tuna manufacturer.

“When the scare happens overseas to a Philippine product, it does not only mean ‘refused entry.’ It can also put the country’s name in the barred list of exporters of unsafe products,” he explained.

By establishing the MiC Laboratory, he said the Philippine products can be as good as any of its European, American, British, Chinese, or Thai counterparts, he pointed out.

Lopez: We see signs of recovery

Trade and Investment Secretary Ramon Lopez, the event’s special guest, said many good things are happening in the country, as the pandemic is in the decline.

Among the economic indicators, he said exports—which is the big concern in safety and quality—are recovering.

“We see signs of [economic] recovery, we’ll work hard and go to the new normal,” he said. “We have recovered compared to pre-pandemic.” With reports from AMGuevarra/S&T Media Service

Image courtesy of Enrico Belga

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