Press Release
October 14, 2008

Pia sees passage of BFAD strengthening bill in November

Senator Pia S. Cayetano is looking forward to the bicameral approval of the proposal to strengthen the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD) when Congress resumes session in November.

Cayetano said Senate Bill No.2645, which aims to broaden the agency's regulatory capacity by converting it into the Food, Drugs, Cosmetics and Devices Administration (FDCDA), has been approved on second reading by the Senate on the last day of session last week.

Its counterpart version, House Bill No. 3293, has been approved on third reading by the House of Representatives earlier this year.

"I expect the bicameral version approved and signed into law before the end of the year," said the lady senator, who is currently in Geneva for the 119th General Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Cayetano is President of the IPU's Committee of Women Parliamentarians.

"The FDCDA will have expanded powers that BFAD currently does not enjoy. It can order the ban, recall or withdrawal of health products, including food, drugs, cosmestics and devices that fail safety standards," pointed out Cayetano, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.

The FDCDA will also have the authority to conduct spot checks on establishments for compliance, issue cease-and-desist orders and seize violative products, she added.

"The FDCDA's broad powers include accrediting private laboratories to complement its work, especially in times of public health emergencies, like the recent melamine scare," she noted. She maintained, however, that the agency will continue to assume primary jurisdiction in the collection of health products for testing purposes.

The Senate version seeks to establish testing laboratories for the agency in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and reinforcing its presence by maintaining field offices in all regions and inspectors in major ports of entry.

To augment the agency's budget, the FDCDA will be allowed to retain all fees, fines, royalties and other charges it collects without requiring prior approval from any government department.

The bill's principal co-authors in the Senate include Senate President Manuel Villar and Senator Loren Legarda, a member of the minority.

"We need the support of all lawmakers for the swift passage of this bill. BFAD's current mandate cannot be achieved with its current status. The increase in the number of products and establishments it needs to regulate has overtaken the bureau's ability to consistently implement its standards and monitor compliance."

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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