Under a new notification from the Malaysian Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Malaysian companies exporting bird’s nests will need to obtain three quality certifications before their products can be allowed to enter China.
The three quality certifications would be the Veterinary Health Mark certificate issued by the Malaysian Veterinary Department, the Radio Frequency Identification certificate issued by the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission and the Health certificate issued by the Health Ministry.
The three certifications have been fixed as per a collaborative effort between the Chinese and Malaysian governments to ensure the quality of edible bird’s nests being exported to China.
The latest move is the fallout of the contamination scandal that broke in August last year when the Zhejiang Provincial Administration for Industry and Commerce found excessive amounts of nitrite in edible bird's nests in Zhejiang.
The watchdog, the quality regulator for Zhenjiang province, added that the tested cubilose (another name for edible bird's nests) was imported from Malaysia, after which China banned their imports.
Differences over nitrite levels
China and Malaysia had set up a working committee to determine the permissible level of nitrite in bird's nests In November last year, with an eventual aim to overturn the ban on their export from Malaysia to China.
At that time, authorities told FoodNavigator-Asia that the two parties had agreed that there should be no nitrite additive in Malaysian bird's nest exports to China during the production but natural nitrite in the product will be allowed.
A spokesperson for the agro ministry told FoodNavigator-Asia that now the Chinese government has said that only bird's nests with zero ppm of nitrite will be exported to China.
“It is not possible for companies to attain that kind of level. Our assumption and hope here is that the Health Ministry would set a minimum and acceptable nitrite level for the issuance of the certification purposes,” he said.
The spokesperson added that companies with the three quality certifications would be allowed to use the “1Malaysia Best” brand on their nest products, “but are still recommended to get a strategic partner in China for easier access.”
Since October 1 last year, edible bird’s nest units are required to implement a food safety assurance system, choosing from the Malaysia Food Safety Scheme (1Malaysia Best), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point or Good Manufacturing Practice, all of which the ministry endorses.
If they fail to do so by the end if the year, they would be fined up to 10,000 ringgits, the health ministry said, adding that the free SK1M certification would be best for such units as it was designed to assist small and medium firms.
Edible bird's nests are made of the secretion from the saliva glands of birds, and have been used in soup in China for centuries, on the basis of belief in their health benefits.
They are the some of the most expensive food products in China, Hong Kong, and the US, where prices can reach up to US$10,000 per kg. Malaysia is the world's biggest exporter of bird's nests, and 95% of them are sold