BIRD'S nest traders have apparently urged the government to convince China to reconsider the requirement of Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFIDs) on boxes exported from Malaysia.
They seem to have argued that as the edible nests pass through many hands before they land in someone's soup, the integrity of the RFID tags will be compromised each time the boxes are opened. Whatever the merits of this objection, as Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Chua Tee Yong pointed out on Tuesday, if the Chinese authorities insist on RFIDs, "then that is their right", and we have to respect that decision. In any case, as its willingness to agree to nitrate levels of 30 parts per million (ppm) -- as against the 34 ppm permitted by the World Health Organisation -- suggests, China can hardly be considered overly rigorous and exacting when it comes to discussing terms for the resumption of bird's nest exports.
To be sure, as the inordinate nitrate content in bird's nest is the main concern, the certificate from the Health Department would appear to be more than adequate to vouch that the danger level is not exceeded. However, when it comes to assuring the safety and quality of edible nests, the importance of RFIDs cannot be so easily dismissed. Certainly, like all technologies, it is not foolproof and can be tampered with. But as this device can track the delicacy from the source to the consumer, it is a tool that can help to ensure that the bird's nest is authentic and safe for consumption. Certainly, this means higher costs to breeders and merchants. But contrary to popular perceptions of players in the industry, it is not a "difficult or complicated process", as Veterinary Services Department director-general Datuk Dr Abdul Aziz Jamaluddin assured on Monday. More importantly, considering the fact that tagging can alleviate China's concerns over health standards following last July's contamination and counterfeit incidents involving Malaysian exports of edible nests, investing in RFIDs is a price worth paying.
Indeed, as the Malaysian and Chinese governments have reached agreement on three key conditions -- health, veterinary and RFID certification -- to get exports back on track, it is not in the best interest of breeders and traders to raise issues which could delay the signing of the export protocol and the resumption of shipments. There is also no good reason why they should still refuse to register with the Veterinary Department. It is hoped that the commercial organisations will work closely with government agencies to restore confidence in the safety and quality of Malaysian bird's nests.