Press Release
September 25, 2008

Pia: BFAD strengthening needed to address food
contamination emergencies

Senator Pia S. Cayetano today pushed for the strengthening of the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) to allow the government to respond faster and more effectively in emergency situations involving contaminated food products that threaten public safety, such as the recent issue over melamine-tainted milk from China.

"The government has to be more pro-active in safeguarding its citizens from contaminated and unsafe food, drugs and cosmetic products marketed locally, including imported products entering our borders," said Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.

"BFAD has been much maligned for acting too late or behind other countries. The impression is that we only react after a public health alert has already been issued by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or elsewhere."

"But what most people don't realize is that BFAD is badly under-funded and under-staffed to effectively carry out its monitoring and regulatory function."

"How, for instance, can we expect only 195 field inspectors [of BFAD] to effectively monitor and regulate an industry with almost 46,000 establishments all year round?" she asked.

Cayetano's proposal is contained in a proposed bill she is scheduled to sponsor in plenary seeking to strengthen the regulatory capacity of the BFAD by establishing the Food, Drugs, Cosmetics and Device Administration (FDCDA).

"The bill is not only a supplementary measure to the Cheaper Medicines Act (RA 9502) which was passed earlier this year," explained the lady senator. "But in addition to monitoring the quality of drugs, this would empower BFAD to effectively address food and cosmetics contamination emergencies."

Under Cayetano's proposal, BFAD will be expanded into the FDCDA, which would be headed by a Director-General with the rank of undersecretary.

The FDCDA will have testing laboratories in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and field offices in every region of the country. It will also establish the agency's presence in ports of entry all over the country to test imported products for safety standards.

The bill will likewise strengthen the agency's power to conduct search and seizure and allow it to cover a wider range of products under its regulation.

Citing data from BFAD, Cayetano said the agency only had 195 staff tasked to inspect 45,747 establishments selling food, drug and cosmetic products all over the country in 2006. Some of the worst discrepancies can be found in Region IV (only 13 inspectors for 6,827 establishments or 525 per inspector), Region I (6 inspectors for 2,748 establishments or 458 per inspector) and Region III (10 inspectors 4,254 establishments or 425 per inspector).

The agency's woes are compounded by its inadequate budget. BFAD spends an average of P271 for the inspection of one establishment. To cover 45,747 establishments, BFAD would need P12.4 million, but it only has P2.4 million as inspection budget.

Additionally, around 50,954 products are registered with BFAD in 2006, but the agency was only able to test 16,000 samples of these products for safety standards due to insufficient budget and equipment.

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