Department of Agriculture to probe ‘fake’ vinegar products

Emmanuel Piñol

Proper classification standards for commercial vinegar sold on the market will now be implemented as a guide for consumers who will buy the product.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said  this is one of the three resolutions formulated during Monday’s inter-agency meeting to address the issue of acid-based commercial vinegar being sold in the market.

Piñol said the classification standards for commercial vinegar will now be “biogenic” for those that will use acetic acid produced through a natural fermentation process and “non-biogenic” for those that are made out of synthetic compounds.

Another issue cleared in the meeting was that the synthetic acetic acid-based vinegar “is not totally unsafe,” according to chemist and toxicologist Dr. Flerida Carino.

Piñol stressed that the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) does not have the mandate to release the names of the brands found to contain “non-biogenic” acetic acid.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), on the other hand,  said it will await the submission by PNRI of its complete study for validation before it will release the list of the vinegar brands.

Piñol explained that the DA initiated the Inter-Agency Meeting since it has the mandate to set standards for Agriculture and Fisheries standards implemented through the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Regulations.

“As Secretary of Agriculture and a consumer, I will not dip my fingers into the health issues involved in using ‘non-biogenic vinegar’ because those are beyond my competence. But there are legitimate issues which I have to raise to protect our local vinegar-makers and the consumers as well,” Piñol said.

He added that the DA has always assumed that vinegar is understood as a product of a natural fermentation process using agricultural products.

Piñol said the dictionary defines vinegar as “a sour-tasting liquid containing acetic acid, obtained by fermenting dilute alcoholic liquids, typically wine, cider, or beer, and used as a condiment or for pickling.”

According to Piñol, the definition does not say: “or any other sour condiment produced from synthetic materials which are by-products of fossil-fuel processing.”

“Any other product which offers the ‘sour’ taste but is not a product of a natural fermentation process should be properly labeled as such -- synthetic acetic acid or ‘sour non-biogenic’ condiment. Thus, it is my position as Secretary of Agriculture that sour condiments made out of synthetic or non-biogenic acetic acid should not be labeled as “vinegar” or “suka,” he added.

Piñol said  he will direct  the BAFS to set the standards for vinegar and those which will be identified as such must only be “sour condiments” produced through a natural fermentation process.

“Also, I believe that there is no simply no legal or moral basis for FDA to withhold the release of the ‘sour condiment’ brands which PNRI found using non-biogenic acetic acid,” Piñol stressed.

He pointed out that the  release of the names will not only be in compliance with the Consumer Protection laws but also the observance of the basic provision in the Philippine Constitution which bestows upon every Filipino the “right to know.”

“The list of the ‘non-biogenic sour condiments’ being passed off as vinegar in the market, whether they are safe for human consumption or not, should be released now. Otherwise, government could expect a lot of lawsuits,” Piñol stressed.