Get to the bottom of ‘lambanog’ poisoning
Have the Department of Science and Technology, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, et al. initiated a full-blown investigation on the Luzon-wide “lambanog” (coconut wine) poisoning, or are they limited to just random samplings? This is an urgent matter, considering that the multibillion-peso lambanog industry that supports millions of people nationwide is at stake. We need quick answers.
After deaths that reached more than 20, scattered in different geographic areas (Batangas, Quezon, Laguna, Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac), no visible full-blown investigation has been started, only warnings given and samplings made.
The FDA warned against illegal peddlers. But even if they were not illegal, the root of the problem is not being solved.
Methanol, considered the culprit, is being added by lambanog brewers to enhance aroma.
Only 0.1 percent natural methanol is allowed. Tests revealed 11.7 percent and 21.8 percent methanol contents, which are considered mainly as synthetic methanol.
Are there reliable technologies to filter out excess methanol from lambanog?
It is a mystery that the lambanog poisoning occurred very suddenly and within a wide geographic area.
We cannot blame mishandling, packaging or low-technology equipment used for many decades now without any previous problem.
Even the use of methanol additive is an old practice. Why the sudden problem?
Here are some possible questions from an amateur nonscientist for relevant government agencies to look into:
(1) Is it possibly related to the “cocolisap” (coconut scale insect) pest and the pesticide being used? Can this affect methanol content?
(2) Cocolisap grows in summer. Is it possible the larval proliferation after summer affects methanol content?
(3) Is methanol the real culprit, or is it something else combined with methanol?
(4) Is it possible that the producers of synthetic methanol have adopted new manufacturing ways that made it more potent and concentrated, causing the problem?
(5) Is there possibly a sudden growth of bacteria that produce natural methanol due to climate change?
We export some of the best lambanog in the world, which has not been a source of methanol excess or poisoning. But will consumers abroad also stop buying until the problem is isolated and solved?
Exporters are affected as much as coconut sap harvesters, distillers, distributors, and retail stores at the grass roots.
Millions benefit from the lambanog industry. We need answers fast. The FDA ban on sales is not enough.
BERNIE V. LOPEZ, [email protected]
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