DOST focuses program on virgin coco oil
By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net VIRGIN coconut oil (VCO) is now such a buzzword in the health and beauty industry that the Department of Science and Technology–Philippine Council for Industry and Energy Research and Development (PCIERD) is setting its sights on providing the most accurate information regarding the supposed benefits gathered from VCO. Acting on numerous stories and unverified claims, the DOST-PCIERD would conduct a series of research and development activities that would take up the different health aspects of VCO. The DOST-PCIERD has partnered with the Philippine Coconut Authority, the Bureau of Food and Drugs and VCO producers for this program. The process, which would take about three years, is more to safeguard the quality of VCO, validating health claims and sustaining the growth of the industry. VCO is basically unrefined coconut oil extracted from the fresh flesh of coconut (thus, the term "virgin"). Although it is nothing new, the last several years have seen a revival in consumption of VCO primarily due to claims of therapeutic benefits. Apart from directly consuming VCO, some entrepreneurs have created "flavored" VCOs while others have incorporated VCO as ingredients of soaps, shampoos, gels and other lotions. On the other hand, no health agency has openly approved the supposed health claims coming from consuming VCO. The VCO revival was claimed to have started in the Philippines when producers in Luzon started marketing their products to the US. From a low of 800 kilos in 2000, the demand expanded to 19 metric tons in 2002. In 2005, 200 VCO producers said an approximate 250 to 300 metric tons are delivered to the US per month. A statement from the Virgin Coconut Oil Producers and Traders Association also noted that their products is slowly becoming used as alternative food supplement in other countries and a trial order 15,000 to 17,000 kilos of VCO is ready for potential buyers. Because of the huge potential of the VCO business, the DOST-PCIERD is concerned about unscrupulous businessmen who would mass produce VCO without the proper processes that could compromise quality of the product. Without any standardization and review of the claims, the problem could become a repeat of the failed nata de coco industry wherein some businessmen produced fake or low-quality nata de coco. Among the activities that the DOST and its partners are starting to conduct include a scientific basis on the processing of VCO. While there are existing standards for coconut oil production, the DOST aims to reformulate the standards to ensure production of high quality VCO. Another activity to be undertaken is substantiating health claims from VCO consumption. The DOST’s Philippine Council for Health Research and Development is taking the lead in reviewing these claims. It would document and do clinical testing on these claims, among which includes benefits for people with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory and skin diseases and immune effects. A third program is establishing technical support industries for the Philippine VCO producers, in an effort to prevent a repeat of the demise of the nata de coco industry several years ago. As such, the DOST is working with other DOST sub-agencies to create support facilities and assistance to VCO producers. The DOST sub-agencies involved in this particular program are the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development, and the National Academy of Science and Technology NAST. The three partners would work on biochemical studies, proficiency tests for VCO, strategic positioning of VCO processing plants in major coconut growing areas in the country, by-product utilization, and environmental management systems for small-to-medium scale business. For this entire endeavor, the DOST-PCIERD also tapped other organizations to provide technical assistance. These are the Industrial Technology Development Institute, Food and Nutrition Research Institute, Philippine Council for Advanced Science and Technology Research and Development, and the National Research Council of the Philippines.
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