In 1970, Administrative Order 134 from the Department of Health (DOH) prohibited the sale of vinegar that contains artificial matter such as synthetic acetic acid. It is still in effect today, since there has been no revision to the order, originally signed by then Health Secretary Amadeo H. Cruz.
But apparently, the order is not being followed.
Clara Lapus of Mama Sita Foundation wrote to me and said that 80 percent of the vinegar currently sold in the market contain synthetic acetic acid.
It might be construed as a self-serving statement, since Mama Sita markets only natural food products. But if Lapus’ claim is true, it boggles the mind that the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Bureau of Food and Drug Administration (BFAD) haven’t done anything about it.
The Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) has revealed that commercial vinegar brands using synthetic acetic acid cause harm to the body.
Former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol had directed the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BFAS) to make sure that “only sour condiments produced through natural fermentation process should be labeled “vinegar” or suka.
Time to rethink
Piñol probably didn’t realize that he had made an unintentional laughable line when he said: “I will not dip my fingers into the health issues.” But on a serious note, isn’t the health of his people also an agriculture concern?
But other people feel it’s time to rethink the 50-year-old DOH order on whether synthetic acetic acid is really harmful to the body. BFAS executive director Vivencio R. Mamaril said his office will look into “the possibility of including provisions on whether vinegar should only come from biogenic sources.”
Even a former head of the Chemistry Department of the University of the Philippines, Flerida A. Cariño, said nonbiogenic sources doesn’t mean that it “should automatically be deemed illegal or harmful to human health.”
But for Lapus, it is more than just the issue of artificial acid in vinegar. Because of the sukang tuba (coconut vinegar) she sources and sells, she has known coconut farmers who have stopped making the vinegar because only a few companies buy the product.
In the new millennium, the trend is to use natural products in food, in cosmetics, even in medicine. But we are moving in the opposite direction, opposite utilizing natural resources, dependent on the science of fabrication, driven by economic profits rather than helping our farmers, questioning the wisdom of the past.
On a lighter note, Lapus has a project with Gallery chef Chele Gonzalez for a tasting of different vinegar using chicharon as medium. There will be three kinds of coconut vinegar (spiced, floral sap, nectar), cane vinegar, sukang Iloko, sinamak and cashew.
I thought the cashew vinegar was made from the nuts, which should make it expensive, but Lapus said it is from the cashew fruit, also known as balubad, which looks like yellow bell pepper, very tart and was used in Malabon as a counterpoint taste to the rich pancit the town is famous for.
Thanks to friends who have gifted me with natural suka these past years. They include Claude Tayag’s Aslam Atbu (Pampango for sugarcane vinegar), Mississippi Sarap Anghang Suka from Butchie Peña, and Winnegar from Marcia Cruz. —CONTRIBUTED