MANILA, November 11, 2005
 (STAR) By Rocel Felix - To reduce confusion over different product standards for virgin coconut oil, the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) should conduct deeper studies to come up with improved specifications and standards for VCO.

"The PCA’s efforts to come up this early with standards and specifications that would safeguard the integrity of our VCO is important in order to get and maintain the confidence of consumers here and abroad," said Emiliano Carandang, former executive director and technical consultant of the Philippine Coconut Research and Development Foundation Inc. (PCRDF).

However, Carandang said the current standards should be seen as a work in progress.

"Specifications and standards for VCO are yet to be fully established. Issues on varietal differences, season of the year, when the nuts are harvested, location specificity, as well as the age of nuts when harvested could create variances from the set standards," he said.

He added that these issues "must be studied deeper and should be considered in setting specifications and standards. Personally, I think that specifications and standards must focus more on the manufacturing process rather than the oil’s chemical composition, which is very stable."

VCO, considered a sunrise industry, has spurred the birth of many local manufacturers, as demand for the product, being touted as a virtual "cure-all" for various diseases, has been steadily growing.

Various government agencies, led by the Bureau of Fisheries and Agricultural Product Standards (BAFPS), are demanding that Splash Pharmaceutical Corp. remove print and broadcast advertisements of its "Theraherb VCO" product, claiming that the ads mislead consumers through misrepresentation and mislabeling.

Splash is one of the country’s largest distributors of VCO.

The BAFPS said that under the adopted Philippine National Standard for VCO, the addition of food additives is not permitted and flavoring compounds are considered food additives.

BAFPS director Gilberto Layese said Splash’s marketing strategy "is a clear violation of standards created for VCO" and the firm is liable under the provisions of the Consumer Act of the Philippines.

Carandang disputed the BAFPS statement, saying that "in a flavored VCO product, VCO is the raw material and flavoring is an innovation that makes the product more palatable and acceptable to a wider base of consumers."

He said the adding of flavors does not alter or degrade VCO’s chemical composition and properties, "resulting in the preservation of VCO’s nutritional and health benefits. In short, flavors do not lead to the alteration of the nature of the virgin coconut oil."

Carandang said by introducing flavored VCO, Splash does not limit the consumers to just one option. "Companies, by giving them more choices, rejuvenate the market and drive the industry to a higher level," he said.

PCA standards, according to Carandang, should be market-friendly while securing the integrity of the VCO produced locally.

"Standards should be stringent on the aspects of quality, but it should also open doors for innovations. For instance, the primary reason why VCO has not yet generated high market penetration is because a great number of consumers cannot just ingest or swallow the VCO as it is," he said.

Carandang said that while the Philippines is still debating its standards for VCO, other Southeast Asian countries are playing catch-up and could pose a real threat to local manufacturers in a couple of years.

"Our competitors in Thailand, Indonesia or India have always looked at the Philippine coconut industry as a sort of model and as a source of ideas. Perhaps it may not take them long before they come up with the same product innovations that we discourage here in the Philippines and become market leaders in much the same way that Thailand did (with) packaged coconut-based products," he said.

Carandang cited the case of coconut milk and nata de coco, products that the Philippines pioneered and developed.

"But now it’s Thailand, instead of the Philippines, that’s reaping the benefits. Other countries, too, are benefiting from an indigenous Filipino product, the nata de coco. When you look at health shops abroad, you can see the product innovations that they’ve done, ranging from colors and shapes to presentations and formats that never fail to capture the fancy of consumers," he said.

There are now about 23 VCO manufacturers in the country, each one following its own product-quality standards. However, none has gone so far as the marketing approach adopted by Splash.

Currently, VCO experts go to Singapore, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and the US, which is the biggest market for this product.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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