KUCHING: The Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs is currently investigating claims of rice products in the market being passed off as ‘Bario rice’, its deputy minister Chong Chieng Jen said.
He revealed that the ministry had received complaints that several Bario rice products sold in the market were actually produced elsewhere.
“The ministry has received several complaints that there are several types of Bario rice currently sold in the market, but they were produced somewhere else.
“For example, the rice was imported from Vietnam and labelled as ‘Bario rice’. These complaints are being investigated in order to ascertain them,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday.
He was responding to a concern expressed by a local company that produces Bario rice, that ‘fake’ Bario rice was being sold in the market.
In a recent interview with The Borneo Post, Ceria group managing director Thomas Hii believed that many of the ‘Bario rice’ brands currently flooding the market came from Indonesia and other unknown sources.
Hii said his company acquires its paddy from Kelabit farmers in Bario at RM3.60 per kilogramme, then process the paddy to become Bario rice.
Due to costs involving in the drying, milling, packaging and transporting of the rice, its retail price is RM16.50 per kilogramme.
He also said the flood of ‘fake’ Bario rice in the market would force the company to lower the price of its product, meaning the price offered to the Kelabit farmers would also have to be lowered.
“If the price does not encourage the farmers to plant the Bario rice, then the whole paddy industry in Bario will collapse,” Hii said.
Chong, meanwhile, said Bario rice in 2009 was awarded the Geographical Indication (GI) certification by the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia (MyIPO), meaning its brand name is protected and must not be used for rice, even similar ones, planted outside Bario.
He said the Department of Agriculture Sarawak is the current holder of the GI certification, which can confirm the authenticity of the origin of Bario rice brands sold in the market.
“The (Bario) rice is registered under GI certification by MyIPO under Geographical Indications Act 2000. So any contradiction with the certificate, including the quality mentioned in the rice’s label, can be considered as false trade description.
“For providing false trade description to the rice’s quality as well as the place or the method of manufacture, the person can be taken action under Section 5 of the Trade Descriptions Act 2011,” he added.
Under Section 5 of the Act, any body corporate who applies a false trade description to any goods will be liable to a fine not exceeding RM250,000; and for the second or subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding RM500,000.
Should the person not be a body corporate, the person who contravenes the Act will be liable to a fine not exceeding RM100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years, or both.
With regards to measures to ensure the origin of Bario rice, Chong said it was under the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture, as well as the Food Act 1983 under the Ministry of Health.
Bario rice, a medium-grain rice that has a marble-white colour, is famous for its sweet taste and slightly sticky texture and is a favourite among Malaysian chefs who use it to prepare traditional recipes.
The farming of this rice has been part of the culture of the Kelabits since time immemorial. Traditionally, its planting takes a labour-intensive six months and there is only one yield a year.