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Progress Report on Export of Raw Cleaned as well as Raw UnCleaned Bird’s Nests Harvested from Swiftlet Houses

The Prime Minister’s Special Envoy and Chairman of Malaysia-China Business Council Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, who led a delegation comprising senior officials and specialists of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry to Beijing in March this year, have reached separate consensus with Minister Zhi Shuping of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, Vice-Minister Chen Xiaohong of the National Health and Family Planning Commission that the issue on the export of Malaysian bird’s nests to China should be resolved as soon as possible and that negotiation on the export of raw cleaned and raw uncleaned bird’s nests to China should start immediately.

Subsequently, the special teams set up by the two Chinese authorities have started work separately and the progress has been smooth. Following is their report:

(1) Progress on the export of raw cleaned bird’s nests to China

A six-member team from the Certification and Accreditation Administration of China arrived in Malaysia on April 8 for a 10-day visit to carry out study and auditing work. They returned to China on April 20 after completing their work. According to Chinese laws, they are to announce the result of their findings within 60 days after the completion of their work.

(2)  Progress on the export of raw uncleaned bird’s nests from swiftlet houses to China

China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission issued a circular to all relevant authorities on April 22, explaining the on-going discussions with Malaysia on the nitrate content of raw bird’s nests.

Those being informed include authorities of industry and information technology, agriculture, commerce, quality supervision, inspection and quarantine as well as food and drug administration.

The circular bearing serial number (2013) 309 contains an introduction of bird’s nest, raw bird’s nest, nitrate and nitrate content in consumable bird’s nest.

The circular makes special mention that based on Malaysia’s proposals, China and Malaysia have revived discussions on bird’s nest export and the maximum level of nitrate in raw uncleaned bird’s nest.

It also notes that China has only agreed that specialists from both countries should focus on the nitrate level in bird’s nests harvested from swiftlet houses because the nitrate level of cave bird’s nests is much higher in comparison.

After the submission of a specialist report by Malaysia, the Chinese health authority in its evaluation report has agreed that raw unclened bird’s nests are raw materials for foodstuff and cannot be consumed directly. As such, raw bird’s nests need to be cleaned and processed before they can be consumed.

China’s existing rules forbid adding nitrate artificially in bird’s nests. Nevertheless, nitrate exists naturally in bird’s nests and it is highly soluble in water. The nitrate in raw bird’s nest is very low after cleaning and processing.

The circular also states that China has fixed and announced the provisional level of nitrate in consumable bird’s nests, as well as the Standard Operating Procedure of processing which would ensure that the end products meet the safety requirement of permissible level of nitrate. It emphasizes that under such circumstances, there is no need to set the permissible level of nitrate in raw uncleaned bird’s nests harvested from swiftlet houses.

On other regulatory requirements, the Chinese health authority also makes it clear that in order to ensure the safety level of consumable bird’s nests, China will only allow the import of raw uncleaned bird’s nests harvested from swiftlet houses. The raw uncleaned bird’s nests must carry the label saying such products are “only meant for processing in processing work place and not for the retail market.”

Raw uncleaned bird’s nest producers must abide strictly to the Standard Operating Procedure and bird’s nest processors must also follow strictly health management regulations to ensure that processed consumable bird’s nests meet the provisional safety level. Furthermore, as raw uncleaned bird’s nests are animal-originated foodstuff, they should be subjected to relevant quarantine rules.

Thus, with the removal of policy restrictions on the exports of raw cleaned as well as raw uncleaned bird’s nests to China, the bird’s nest issue is now being actively dealt with in the right direction.

At the end of March, China has submitted a set of queries related to the export of raw uncleaned bird’s nests and officials of the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry are now providing the relevant data and information.

The Chinese side is expected to make a risk assessment report based on our data and information, and subsequently come out with a draft operational procedure. Both sides are to work together on a protocol allowing the export of raw uncleaned bird’s nests to China.

Meanwhile, it is necessary for our ministries of health, agriculture and agro-based industry to co-ordinate closely with relevant Chinese authorities in completing the survey. This will enable the Chinese side to carry out their risk assessment and subsequently, both Malaysia and China can work out the protocol on the export of raw uncleaned bird’s nests to China.

Our bird’s nest operators should also strengthen their relationship with our ministries of health, agriculture and agro-based industry. There should be greater and closer co-ordination to grow our bird’s nest industry through concerted efforts.

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