SINGAPORE: A pack of peeled garlic is labelled “Product of Singapore”, as is a carton of milk.
An unknowing consumer therefore could be forgiven for assuming that both originated in the Republic, but, in fact, one comes from China and the other Australia.
They are labelled products of Singapore because they have been processed and packaged here.
But as consumers become more conscious about the provenance of their food – and willing to pay more for products from certain destinations including Singapore – some industry players say food labels should be made clearer and more transparent.
The Republic manufactures food products for export to its neighbouring countries but most of the ingredients have to be imported.
Singapore Food Regulations do not require local food manufacturers to specify the country of origin of raw ingredients used on food labels.Hence, a dairy company which imports raw milk and processes it here, is not required to disclose on its label where the raw milk came from. Only imported pre-packed food products need to be labelled with the country of origin.
For instance, F&N Magnolia Fresh Milk, a product of Singapore, does not state where the milk was sourced from on its packaging.
But Jennifer See, managing director of F&N Foods, said the milk is mainly sourced from Australia.
Industry players say it is currently not clear where exactly the line is drawn when it comes to deciding whether a food product is made in Singapore or not.
Would the final step of adding sugar to juice which has been squeezed, pasteurised and separated in another country qualify for it to be tagged a Singapore product?
Does it depend on how the food is further processed in Singapore?
A Singapore Food Agency (SFA) spokesman said only food products that are manufactured in Singapore can use the terms “Made in Singapore” or “Product of Singapore” on their labels.
The spokesman added that “the country of origin is the country where the final food product is produced”.For export, a product can be labelled as originating from Singapore provided it was significantly changed in Singapore, a Singapore Customs spokesman said.
The spokesman added that different Free Trade Agreements had different Rules of Origin.
But the devil is in the details in determining how much change a product has undergone for it to be claimed as a product of Singapore.
David Tan, president of the Singapore Food Manufacturers’ Association, said under Singapore Customs regulations, the threshold is 25% of value added for exports.
But, to enjoy preferential tax incentives for exporting to China, the percentage of value add must be at least 40%, he said.
However, Guo Ren, who teaches Food, Nutrition and Culinary Science at Temasek Polytechnic, points out it can be hard to quantify the value that is added to food products.“We need to draw a line but to what extent, it’s hard to define. For example, a manufacturer buys an almost finished product from Malaysia, unpacks it, adds a little salt and sugar, and then calls it a product of Singapore. That’s unacceptable to me, ” said Guo.
As it is hard to determine value-add, it is possible for peeled garlic packed in Singapore to be labelled “product of Singapore” even though the garlic is grown and harvested in China, argues one manufacturer.
Loke Chee Weng, who runs Reach Trading, imports raw garlic from China and shallots from the Philippines said they are peeled here and then labelled “Product of Singapore”. — The Straits Times/ANN