In January this year, Malaysia was finally able to resume bird’s nest exports to China almost half a year after the latter had banned their import due to nitrite contamination.
With new regulations, Malaysian exporters can finally access the Chinese market as long as they obtained three quality certifications prior to shipping - the Veterinary Health Mark certificate, the Radio Frequency Identification certificate and the Health certificate.
In addition was the requirement that bird’s nests farmers would register with the Malaysian ministry of agriculture and agro-based industries. However, only a handful of them have done so to date.
In all, there are 5,000 bird nest farms in Malaysia.
“We are having issues with them. Only about 800 of them have done so till now. We believe that some are refusing to do so to avoid taxes. Some may just have low quality standards,” a ministry spokesperson told FoodNavigator-Asia.
Others, he reasoned, are waiting for the price of the product to go up, which fell after the nitrite issue as demand dried up in China and Hong Kong.
Enough checks in place for safety
The spokesperson pointed out that the Malaysian authorities have put in enough checks to keep the Chinese authorities satisfied.
Last year, edible bird’s nest units were required to implement a food safety assurance system, choosing from the Malaysia Food Safety Scheme (1Malaysia Best), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) or Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) schemes, all of which the ministry endorses.
Companies with the three quality certifications are 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.
A valuable product
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.