Amendments to food-safety law sought

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The National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) is urging Congress to amend Republic Act (RA) 10611 to revert the regulation of prepackaged food and processed-meat products to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

NMIS Executive Director Ernesto S. Gonzalez said allowing the attached agency of the DA to again have supervision over all meat products would boost efforts of the government to ensure the safety of these food items.

“It [reversing transfer of supervision of meat products] makes common sense. Monitoring of meat products would also improve,” Gonzalez told reporters in an interview on the sidelines of a forum held in Pasay City last Friday.

He said the NMIS sought the support of Sen. Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture, for the amendment of RA 10611, or the Food Safety Act of 2013.

“She [Villar] is really in favor of reverting the regulation of processed-meat products to the NMIS,” Gonzalez said.

In October last year NMIS Deputy Executive Director Beata Humilda O. Obsioma said a draft Executive Order (EO) authorizing the reversal of regulatory power transfer was submitted to the President in September last year.

The draft EO, which was prepared by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol and Health Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial, sought the suspension of Joint Administrative Circular (JAC) 2 released on June 29. The circular transferred the supervision and regulation of processed and prepackaged-meat products from the NMIS to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Department of Health (DOH).

Gonzalez said, however, that amending RA 10611 would be a better option.

Under Section 15 of RA 10611, the DOH “shall be responsible for the safety of processed and prepackaged foods, foods locally produced or imported under this category and the conduct of monitoring and epidemiological studies on food-borne illnesses”.

With this transfer of regulatory supervision, the DA is left to ensure the “food safety in the primary production and postharvest stages of food supply chain and foods locally produced or imported”.

Earlier, Obsioma said meat processors belonging to the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (Pampi) have complained that the FDA is not “competent enough” to handle the processing of meat permits.

Pampi also said companies would incur additional costs if JAC 2 is not rescinded, as they would have to coordinate with two departments to secure permits.

The group noted that companies pay an average of P2,000 to register a product with the NMIS. Pampi said major meat-processing companies have anywhere from 500 to 800 product lines.

Permits issued by the government to processors assure consumers that their meat products are safe.

Pampi Vice President Jerome D. Ong said his group would submit a position paper expressing support for the NMIS’s call to revert the supervision of processed meat products to the DA.

Ong, who is also president of CDO Foodsphere Inc., added his group would also seek an audience with lawmakers familiar with the issue to raise their concerns over meat regulations.

“The fact remains today that the two departments have separate jurisdiction over our business interest in different phases or stages of our business models. Our sector is now reporting to two cabinet departments, in effect doubling our costs for compliance,” he said.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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