Via an official FDA press release earlier this month, it was reported that a PNRI study had found that ‘as many as eight out of ten vinegar products are not made from natural sources’.
Over 360 brands of commercial vinegar had been tested in the study, meaning that over 280 vinegar brands should be considered as ‘fake’ vinegar, according to the FDA.
“Such products did not undergo the natural process of fermentation of acetic acid, which is the usual process of making vinegar. [The] synthetic or ‘fake’ vinegar [reportedly] uses glacial acetic acid, which shortens the production process,” said the FDA.
According to FDA officer-in-charge Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo, “Synthetic acetic acid may not be harmful per se, but products using such chemicals shall have their registration with the FDA revoked for misdeclaration.”
The FDA described the ‘fake’ vinegar to be ‘low risk’ because of low microbial contamination risk and ‘no evidence that synthetic acetic acid is harmful to health’, but added that is still considered to be adulterated, as the synthetic acetic acid added is deemed to be ‘artificial matter’.
The Department of Health (DOH) and chemist/toxicologist Dr Flerida Carino described synthetic acetic acid-based vinegar to be ‘not totally unsafe’, drawing flak from online netizens demanding to know: “Why the double negative?”
The FDA had previously announced that it would revoke the Certificate of Product Registration (CPR) of the relevant brands, both both the agency and the PNRI did not reveal the brand names involved in the study.
This has led Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol to push for the information to be released, via a public post on social media.
He clarified that based on the results of an inter-agency meeting chaired by the Department of Agriculture, moving forth vinegar made using natural acetic acid and processing will be called ‘biogenic’, and synthetic ones called ‘non-biogenic’.
“The PNRI said it does not have the mandate to release the names of the brands found to contain ‘non-biogenic’ acetic acid while the FDA said it will await the submission by PNRI of its complete study for validation before it will release the list of the vinegar brands,” said Pinol on Facebook.
“I believe that there is no simply no legal or moral basis for FDA to withhold the release of the brands which PNRI found using non-biogenic acetic acid, [as this] will not only be in compliance with the Consumer Protection laws but also the observance of that very basic provision in the Philippine Constitution which bestows upon every Filipino the Right to Know.”
He added that the brand names list ‘should be released now [whether] or not they are safe for human consumption, [otherwise] the government could expect a lot of lawsuits’.
Vinegar is known as ‘suka’ in the official Filipino language of Tagalog. According to Pinol, this is defined to be ‘a sour-tasting liquid containing acetic acid, obtained by fermenting dilute alcoholic liquids’.
“[It] is my position as Secretary of Agriculture that sour condiments made out of synthetic or non-biogenic acetic acid should not be labeled as ‘vinegar’ or ‘suka’, [and] I will direct the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) to set the standards for vinegar [as such],” he added.
Although he declined to elaborate on the health risks of non-biogenic vinegar, Pinol also described it to be an adulterated product and ‘a serious case of product misrepresentation punishable under our Consumer Protection laws’.
“The list of [brands] must be made known to the public and with [Domingo having defined] these products as adulterated and fake, an order to pull these products out of the market must be issued immediately,” said Pinol.
Whilst supporting Pinol’s call for the release of the list of brands, consumer group Laban Konsyumer has demanded that the PNRI take responsibility for ‘causing panic’ amongst consumers surrounding the use of synthetic acetic acid.
According to UNTV, group president Atty. Vic Dimagiba said that: “The PNRI should make a public apology because of their erroneous report that caused panic or anxiety to consumers.”
“The FDA and DOH should also publish what they claim as mislabeling violation of these brands of vinegar, recall and fine them according to the Food Safety Law and Consumer Act.”