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HISTORY: Review of the rationale for existence

As a predominantly agricultural country, the Philippines have to provide an enabling environment to modernize its agriculture sector that will increase productivity amidst the growing needs of the global market for safe and quality products. The ultimate goal is to uplift the living conditions of the farmers and fisher folks. The Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries (BAFS) of the Department of Agriculture actively contributes towards the attainment of this goal through the fulfillment of its mandated functions in standard development and its initiatives towards the adoption and regulation of standards that will promote quality and safety of Philippine agriculture and fishery products.

The Standard-Setting Agency for Agriculture and Fishery Products

The Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) dates back its history on the enactment of Republic Act No. 8435 otherwise known as the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) of 1997. Under this law, the State recognized the roles and benefits of product standardization and consumer safety for the modernization of Philippine agriculture sector. With a mission to develop standards that are science-based, globally harmonized, and consistent with international commitments, the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Product Standards (BAFPS) was formally established on December 4, 1998 through Administrative Order No. 7 Series of 1998.

The establishment of BAFPS was in consonance with the State Declaration that “all sectors involved in the production, processing, distribution and marketing of food and non-food agricultural and fisheries products shall adhere to and implement the use of product standards in order to ensure consumer safety and promote the competitiveness of agriculture and fisheries products.”

The existence of the BAFPS stem from the need for an effective implementation and enforcement of the agriculture and fisheries product standards through better coordination and strengthening of existing standards formulation and implementation in several government agencies.

Administrative Order No. 17 series of 1998 enumerates BAFPS’ powers and functions as defined in Section 63 of RA 8435 which goes to:

1. Formulate and enforce standards of quality in the processing, preservation, packaging, labeling, importation, exportation, distribution, and advertising of agriculture, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture products;
2. Conduct research on product standardization, and alignment of the local standards with the international standards; and,
3. Conduct regular inspection of processing plants, storage facilities, abattoirs, as well as public and private markets in order to ensure freshness, safety and quality of products.

Given these functions, the BAFPS envisions to be the standard-setting agency that will ensure the safety, quality, and global competitiveness of Philippine agriculture and fishery products. Empowered by strong advocacies and involvement in strengthening Philippine quality assurance systems, BAFS successfully embarked on programs like Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Global GAP, Good Animal Husbandry Practices (GAHP) and organic agriculture certification scheme.

BAFS as one of the key players in the Organic Agriculture Industry

In 2010, Republic Act No. 10068 otherwise known as the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010 declares it a policy of the state “to promote, propagate, develop further and implement the practice of organic agriculture in the Philippines.”

With this law as amended by the Republic Act No. 11511 (Amendment to the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010) approved last December 23, 2020, the BAFS has been mandated with both standard development, regulatory, and technical functions for organic agriculture.

As competent authority for organic agriculture, the BAFS is mandated to grant accreditation to third-party organic certifying bodies, PGS groups, and other entities to provide certification to organic management system (e.g. farms, etc.). Moreover, the BAFS was authorized to certify individual farms as a core PGS group, conduct inspections on compliance of PGS groups with the established Philippine National Standards for organic agriculture and relevant regulations.

Under this law, the BAFS was given the authority to issue registration on integrated organic farms, and organic inputs such as organic soil amendments (OSA) and organic biocontrol agents (OBCA). In support to these regulatory functions, the BAFS will be conducting monitoring and post-market surveillance of organic producers, farms, and inputs to ensure enforcement of the labeling requirements of the Organic Agriculture law.

With the increased mandate of BAFS, the Bureau will be restructured, strengthened, and empowered. Additional mandates requires the Bureau to restructure the Organic Agriculture Division, which is now have three sections, namely: Accreditation Section, Registration and Evaluation Section, and the Monitoring and Labeling Enforcement Section. The administrative secretariat function of BAFS to the National Organic Agriculture Board (NOAB) has been transferred to the National Organic Agriculture Program – National Program Coordinating Office (NOAP-NPCO). Likewise, other relevant divisions of the Bureau such as the Standards Development Division (SDD), Technical Services Division (TSD), and the Laboratory Services Division (LSD) were strengthened to provide technical support to BAFS regulatory functions on organic agriculture.

BAFS with more than just product standards

In 2013, two more enabling laws were approved adding mandates to the BAFPS: 1.) Republic Act No. 10601 otherwise known as the Agriculture and Fisheries Mechanization Law (AFMech); and 2) Republic Act No. 10611 or the Food Safety Act of 2013.

The AFMech Law mandated BAFPS to develop standard specifications and test procedures for agriculture and fishery machinery and equipment in coordination with accredited testing centers (e.g. Agricultural Machine Testing and Evaluation Center (AMTEC), other government and private entities (e.g. DTI, DOST, Board of Agricultural Engineering (BoAE) – PRC), in conformity with ISO and part of the Philippine Agricultural Engineering Standards (PAES).

Through the AFMech Law, the BAFPS was renamed to the Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) to accommodate the wider scope of agri-related standards the agency is mandated to develop, such as machineries, tools, and equipment.

It was also the AFMech Law which renamed the BAFPS to BAFS, dropping out the “P for Product” to accommodate machineries, tools and equipment which cannot be categorized as agri-fishery ‘products.’

Just after the passage of AFMech Law, the Food Safety Act was enacted and mandated the BAFS to develop, adopt, amend, and revise mandatory, science-based food safety standards and codes of practices and to establish the mechanism and use the services of qualified DA pool of scientific experts. An online system for DAPE has been developed by BAFS to cater to this task, wherein qualified experts can register online according to their respective field of expertise.

In 2016, the Republic Act No, 10817 otherwise known as the Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Act of 2016 was enacted and mandated the BAFS to develop the Philippine National Standards for Halal covering primary and post-harvest foods. With this mandate, the BAFS was able to facilitate the development of Halal standards for agri-fishery products, feeds, and codes of practices for slaughtering ruminants and poultry.

The BAFS through the years…

After two decades, the BAFS has developed a total of 240 standards and codes of practices - 187 for fresh & primary products, 9 for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), 7 for Good Animal Husbandry Practices (GAHP), 7 for Organic Agriculture, 26 for Agricultural and Fisheries Machinery & Structures, and 4 for Halal. The BAFS also initiated the development of explanatory brochures in order to promote the adoption of standards and to harmonize the understanding and interpretation of stakeholders.

With a more ardent desire to facilitate international as well as national trade, encourage high-quality production, improve profitability and protect consumer interests, BAFS aims to be the national repository of Philippine National Standards and the prime-mover of quality assurance systems on food safety.