Friday, September 02, 2005
read those LABELS!
THE FOOD and Drug Administration (FDA) has barred the entry into the United States of some 300 products from the Philippines for failing to meeting its standards.
The barred products, as reported in BusinessWorld, include food and beverages manufactured by some of our biggest companies, including US multinationals: Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines Inc.'s Royal Tru-Orange, RFM's White King Champorado Mix, Moo Chocolate and Ube Milk, Kraft Foods' Tang Guyabano and Ponkan C juice drinks as well as Sugarland's Eight O' Clock powdered juice, Del Monte's Italian-style and sweet-style spaghetti sauces, Philippine Beverage Partners' Jellyace snacks, Century Canning's Century Tuna, Liwayway's Oishi and Prawn Crackers, Zesto's Quik Chow Instant Pancit Canton, Leslie's Nacho Chips, Monde Denmark Nissin's Lucky Me instant noodles, Mama Sita sauces and even Universal Robina's Maxx and XO candies, Payless Instant Noodles and Nissin Yakisoba instant noodles.
A number of cosmetic and beauty products are also on the banned list, including skin-whitening products from Sara Lee and Splash, Getz Brothers' Salonpas, Johnson & Johnson's Modess and Clean & Clear Facial Wash, Kimberly Clark's Kotex and Interphil's feminine hygiene wash. Even the giant multinational Unilever was affected, with the following products barred: Leave-on hair conditioner, Closeup toothpaste, Pond's Cream, Wash and Fluid, and Vaseline Amino Collagen.
The list reminds us how powerful homegrown tastes can be even when one moves several thousand miles away. I can imagine Filipino-Americans protesting: What do you mean no more Maxx candies? Even worse, why aren't we getting Choc Nut anymore?
Note, too, a reversal of the colonial mentality. In the Philippines, we crave for "Stateside" products and yet when Filipinos finally make it to the Promised Land, there's nostalgia for Filipino products, from Closeup toothpaste to Salonpas. There are strange twists here as well: note the colonial mentality is still operational in the demand for skin-whitening products.
Which takes us to why the products were barred from entering the United States. For the cosmetic and "beauty" (I just had to add the quotation marks this time around) products, the ban was imposed because those products were not licensed by the FDA. Some products, like those skin whiteners, will never make it through FDA requirements, whether for safety or efficacy; yet, they're among the best-selling cosmetic products here in the Philippines (just check out Mercury Drug's shelves next time you visit and you'll find several versions).
Some of the larger food and beverage manufacturers whose products were barred have told BusinessWorld that their products are safe. Coca-Cola said it followed the same standards for production worldwide and that the ban was due to differences in labeling requirements in the Philippines and the United States.
An example of this difference is that here we only require manufacturers to indicate that food coloring has been used, while in the United States, the FDA requires that the actual name of each food coloring is indicated on the label.
But these differences in labeling requirements should make us rethink our own labeling requirements. Food coloring and other additives aren't as innocuous as we might think. Tartrazine, a yellow dye commonly used in candies, soft drinks and other foods, as well as additives such as sulfites (very common in preserved fruits) can cause severe reactions such as skin hives and asthma-like symptoms. These are not banned substances, but many countries require that labels indicate their presence in foods or beverages, as a warning to consumers who may be particularly sensitive to those chemicals.
A proper listing of all the foods that went into a package is also important. Muslims and Jews, for example, need to know if the product has any pork or pork derivatives in it. Very strict vegetarians will not take any food product with dairy or eggs.
Many of us are aware of allergies to seafood, but there are many other common foods that can cause sensitivity reactions in some people, including eggs, wheat and the different kinds of nuts, including peanuts. As with the food coloring and additives, these foods need to be indicated on the label as a warning. (On some British food products, I've noticed they even use an exclamation point accompanied by text that reads: "Contains Nuts.")
I have written about the dangers of excessive sodium intake because it can send blood pressure soaring. Again, a proper food label will tell you how much sodium comes with the product, and how close you're getting to the maximum recommended daily intake of 1,500 milligrams. (Lower that to 1,200 mg for people over 70.)
The Americans are also very strict about food products not making any therapeutic claims. This is important because many so-called herbal medicines are approved not as drugs but as foods, and when approved that way, they are not allowed -- both in the United States and in the Philippines -- to make any claims for preventing or curing diseases.
Recently I caught an ad on one of the larger radio stations for an herbal product, where the announcer dutifully read out, "Approved by the Bureau of Food and Drugs. No therapeutic claims allowed." He paused a split second then went on to enumerate something like 20 diseases that the product supposedly could cure! I could almost imagine the product label reading "No therapeutic claims allowed" accompanied by the claims.
Instead of complaining about the United States barring our products, we should pick up some lessons on proper labeling of our food, beverage and cosmetic products. Schools should be teaching students how to read these labels, including detecting hype and false claims.