The Department of Agriculture (DA) is reviving its plan to have “end-to-end jurisdiction” over livestock and poultry-related matters to ensure the efficient regulation of the sector and to fasttrack the approval of permits, including veterinary vaccines.
Agriculture Undersecretary for Livestock Deogracias Victor Savellano said the DA is in discussions with the Department of Health (DOH), particularly its Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Office of the President through the Executive Secretary, to clarify regulatory overlaps and delineation.
In a recent poultry forum, Savellano said the interagency dialogue seeks to improve the implementation of the Food Safety Act by strengthening the roles of implementing government entities.
However, the DA is taking a different route this time as it plans to just ink a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with the DOH instead of pushing for the amendment of the Food Safety Act, which is “cumbersome,” according to Savellano.
“That’s long [amendments]. What we’re doing now is we are asking the Executive Secretary to help us because the DOH and FDA are implementing the law and we think we should be coordinating with each other since we have the manpower, equipment and laboratories,” Savellano told reporters in an interview.
“If some processes will be with them [DOH and FDA] then it may take time. If processes would take long then [there would be consequences] that we will have to resolve.”
Savellano urged livestock and poultry stakeholders to submit their respective position papers and consolidate their position on the matter.
Regulatory woes involving livestock and poultry stemmed from the delineation of duties and responsibilities between the agriculture agencies and the health agencies after the Food Safety Act was enacted.
For example, veterinary drugs and vaccines are registered with the FDA but the testing and evaluation are conducted by pertinent agriculture agencies.
Previous agriculture leaders had advocated for the return of processed meat products as well as veterinary items like drugs and vaccines under the DA-attached agencies’ jurisdictions. (Related story: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2017/09/25/amendments-to-food-safety-law-sought/)
The timeline for the forging of the MOA, Savellano said, is “immediate” since there are certain regulatory functions that should be reverted to the DA, such as the approval of vaccines for animals.
“If it is for animals then they should let the DA handle it. If it involves humans then it’s under DOH.”
The DA’s move to realign regulatory roles and responsibilities comes at a time when the country needs to import critical animal vaccines, such as the avian influenza vaccine.
Jun Romo, President of Philippine College of Poultry Practitioners Inc. (PCPP), said the country’s avian influenza (AI) vaccine guidelines are “steadily moving forward.”
Romo said there is a need to fasttrack the approval of the guidelines because of the presence of migratory birds and the circulation of the AI virus in the country.
Romo disclosed that the draft guidelines are currently undergoing “legal scrubbing” and once done, it would be submitted to President Marcos Jr. for his approval. Marcos is concurrently the country’s agriculture chief.
PCPP is the private sector partner of the national government in crafting the country’s bird flu guidelines. The national government is represented by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Previously, he said the FDA wanted to allow the importation of a few vials of AI vaccine for trial testing akin to the tests being undertaken for African swine fever.
However, the FDA was convinced during the last tripartite meeting to adopt the updated vaccine guidelines that have already taken into consideration risks and food safety concerns.
Endorsement letters for three vaccine candidates were already submitted to the concerned government agencies, Romo said.
“Before, the FDA wanted a smaller volume [of vaccines] for trials but that is not what the industry needs right now. The migration of live birds is already here so we need mass vaccination to end [the virus],” he said in a recent forum.
“The [draft memorandum circular] is now with the [Department of Agriculture’s] legal [service] for legal brushing and for approval of the DA secretary to make it an official MC. Of course we are also waiting the evaluation on the side of the FDA.”
Romo said the approval of the vaccine guidelines is “urgent” since illegal bird flu vaccines are already circulating in the market through e-commerce platforms like Shopee and Lazada.
He warned that the use of illegal bird flu vaccines may cause the AI strains circulating in the Philippines to mutate.
“[The vaccines sold online] are either just oil emulsion or aluminum hydroxide solution. Those vaccines are not really legitimate [products] of vaccine companies,” he said.
“There are also vaccines coming from nearby countries that are not prescribed to be used. Our circulating strain is 126.96.36.199b, using these vaccines may push the virus to mutate further and once our legitimate vaccines arrive they might become ineffective.”
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