January 26, 2021. Everyday activities, whether simple or complex, are guided by standards. These voluntary and consensus-based documents are essential to safeguard the quality, safety, and reliability of products that we use or consume and these also serve as guide to our practices. In the Philippines, national standards are formulated by the government Standards Developing Organization (SDO) through public involvement and transparency. The functions of an SDO are based on enacted laws. Thus, several government SDOs have mandates on standards development. However, their scope of work differs from each other.
The Bureau of Agriculture and Fisheries Standards (BAFS) under the Department of Agriculture (DA) was created by the Republic Act No. 8435 or the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act (AFMA) of 1997 and mandated the agency to develop Philippine National Standards (PNS) for primary, and postharvest agriculture and fishery products. As defined by AFMA, primary refers to processing of physical alteration of raw agricultural or fishery products with or without the use of mechanical facilities. While, the postharvest activities include processes, but is not limited to, threshing, drying, milling, grading, storing, and handling of produce and other activities such as stripping, winnowing, chipping, and washing. A total of four (4) other laws were passed after AFMA, which provides additional directives of the Bureau, namely:
- Republic Act 10601 or the Food Safety Act (FSA) of 2013 authorized BAFS to create food safety standards and codes of practice for primary and postharvest foods;
- Republic Act 10611 or the Agriculture and Fisheries Mechanization (AFMech) Law delegated BAFS to establish standards for agriculture and fishery machinery and equipment;
- Republic Act No. 10817 or the Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Act of 2016 mandated BAFS to establish Halal standards for primary and postharvest foods; and
- Republic Act No. 11511 of 2021 or the Act amending Republic Act No. 10068 to strengthen the function of BAFS in formulating organic agriculture standards.
Understanding the food value chain through standards
A good example of which is the mango fruit, the raw material of mango juice as illustrated in Figure 1. Three (3) institutions namely, DA-BAFS, Department of Health - Food and Drug Administration (DOH-FDA), and Department of Trade and Industry - Bureau of Philippine Standards (DTI-BPS) are involved in developing standards as per their mandates.
BAFS Role. Given the above-mentioned laws, the standards development functions of BAFS is indeed part of the food value chain by setting the standards for the “fresh, primary, and postharvest” segment.
For fresh mangoes, the Bureau develops quality specification, food safety parameters, and codes of practice such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
FDAs Role. When the mango is subjected to processes wherein additives are added to manufacture another product such as mango juice, the development of the standards will fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA under the DOH. FDA is mandated by the FSA of 2013 to develop standards for processed and prepackaged foods.
DTIs Role. The development of standards for packaging materials (e.g. glassware container) used to store processed mangoes fall under the purview of DTI-BPS as provided under Republic Act No. 4109 or the Standards Law of 1964. The container should also comply with the standards on labelling of DTI.
Figure 1 - Standard Development Organizations’ interrelated work in the formulation
of standards for mango
BAFS limitation under FSA 2013
Prior to the enactment of the Food Safety Act of 2013, BAFS developed standards for processed agri-fishery products. An example of which are the PNS for Raw Cane Sugar (e.g. brown and white) which were developed in 2010 and revised in 2018. The Bureau, remaining true to its commitment to the full implementation of FSA 2013, has already notified FDA and DTI-BPS that previously developed standards for processed sugarcane will be reassigned to FDA in order not to create a duplication of function. However, the muscovado sugar (a by-product without additives) remains under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, particularly the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).
How international standards are used in the development of PNS?
International standards such as Codex (food code) and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) are documents developed through consensus of experts from member countries, approved and published by globally recognized bodies. Standards contain use, rules, guidelines, or characteristics that allow users to achieve the same outcome.
In this regard, BAFS adopts, harmonizes, and uses international standards in the formulation of PNS. This is done to benchmark with internationally recognized practices for effective management, policy, and trade. Although used as the main reference in the development of standards, these international standards are subjected to discussions and consultations to ensure that the developed Philippine National Standard (PNS) also reflects our practices and conditions.
The Codex Standard for Oranges (CXS 245-2004 Amended 2005, 2011) is an example of an international standard adopted by BAFS with modifications to suit the production in the Philippines. The particular provisions on the size and minimum juice content of locally grown oranges were specified on the PNS. Through this process of validation and consultations, the resulting PNS Orange - Specification (PNS/BAFS 239:2018) reflects our production practices.
Are standards voluntary or mandatory?
Despite the laws governing the development of standards, standards are voluntary in nature. The voluntary nature of PNS means that stakeholders have no legal obligations to comply with standards developed by SDOs.
However, if a certain PNS is used as a basis and is adopted by a competent authority into a technical regulation, the voluntary nature of the standard is now modified. Compliance to the standard, as specified in the technical regulation, is now mandatory and non-compliance will be sanctioned. Sanctions may include fines, revocation of a certificate, and product recall, among others.
To illustrate, the Department Circular No. 04 – Guidelines on the Registration of Organic Soil Amendments Producers and Products requires mandatory compliance of producers and products to the Philippine National Standard for Organic Soil Amendments (PNS/BAFS 183:2020) to obtain registration for organic fertilizers, organic soil conditioners, microbial inoculants, and organic plant supplement. This means that non-compliance to the provisions cited in PNS/BAFS 183:2020 can result in disqualification for certification and registration.
Implementation of standards is an example of good regulatory practices since the use of standards ensures that excessive and irrelevant requirements are not imposed by regulations. During the development of standards, minimum necessary standards are already considered while ensuring consumer safety, worker’s health and welfare, environmental protection, and market competitiveness.
How standards are used in trade?
Aside from ensuring consumer health and safety, the other main objective of developing PNS is to make our agri-fishery commodities globally competitive. When our PNS are developed, its intended use is to guide the domestic producers and to serve as a basis for acceptance or rejection of imported products.
Although our agri-fishery commodities, particularly those for exports may be classified and produced following applicable PNS, the additional requirements or standards imposed by the importing country will still have to be complied with by our producers in order for these products to be accepted by the importing country. The effect on our traded agri-fishery commodities is minimized by ensuring that our PNS are harmonized with international standards, hence, minimizing rejection and economic loss. ###