Pangasinan 'bangus' gets its own brand name
By Gabriel Cardinoza Inquirer DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines--It's now a lot easier to spot the bangus (milkfish) grown in Pangasinan. They are now labeled either "Dagupan bangus" or "Pangasinan bangus." Those without these labels are considered "alien bangus," or grown somewhere else, according to city agriculturist Emma Molina. "We have to act fast because we cannot ignore and set aside the perception of our consumers," Molina said. "Besides, we have to give premium to Dagupan bangus and differentiate them from Pangasinan bangus and from bangus [raised in other provinces]," she said. Dagupan bangus refer to those grown in the city's fish pens and ponds while Pangasinan bangus are those grown in other towns such as Bolinao, Anda, Bani, Sual, Lingayen, Binmaley, San Fabian and Alaminos City. The labeling of homegrown bangus was triggered by the arrival here last month of large shipments of bangus from other provinces, creating fears among local growers that it would impact on the local bangus industry, which is the lifeblood of the city. "Not only were these sold P15 to P20 cheaper than our bangus but these were also passed off as genuine Dagupan bangus," said Julita Perez, president of the Malimgas-Aliguas Dagupan Vendors Federation. To the untrained eye, an "alien" bangus looks exactly like a Dagupan bangus. To tell the difference, one has to smell the gills. "An 'alien' bangus has that distinctive, unpleasant, mud-like odor," Perez said. Dagupan bangus, especially those raised in the fishponds in the villages of Bonuan Gueset, Bonuan Boquig and Bonuan Binloc, are said to be the best tasting bangus variety in the world. But Molina said the labeling system the group has adopted is the best it can do for the moment. She said in her meetings with local bangus growers and wholesalers that they were thinking of putting individual labels on each package of bangus. "But we cannot easily implement it because we need to closely coordinate with the Department of Trade and Industry because there's a DTI project under the One Town-One Product program, where the DTI identified that the provincial product would still be bangus," Molina said. To ensure that the bangus products are properly labeled, Molina said the city government's market division had fielded market inspectors to monitor bangus wholesalers. "There are more than 50 wholesalers and we have identified who are trading Bonuan bangus, who are trading Dagupan bangus and who are trading Pangasinan bangus," Molina said. There are only four wholesalers trading "alien" bangus, she said. "The peculiarity of their operations is that they do not trade 'alien' bangus the whole 24 hours that they operate because the 'alien' bangus arrive during a specific period," Molina said. At least 200 kilograms of "alien" bangus arrive here every other day from Zambales and Bulacan, she said. "But when the supply is small, the trick is that these are mixed with the Dagupan bangus or Pangasinan bangus. So it is passed off as such, which is detrimental to the industry because we all know that they do not taste like our bangus," Molina said. While the city government is still perfecting the labeling scheme, Molina said they could only bank now on the honesty of the wholesalers. "We told them that we could not protect the industry alone. We can only protect it if it is coupled with honesty and with the spirit of being a Dagupeño," she said. "The first that would be ruined is Dagupan's bangus industry and second, the credibility of the operator. Even if we help each other on the monitoring side, if the person selling it is not telling us the truth, still [we will have a problem]," Molina said.
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