Wrong decisions sometimes better than none
In agriculture where time is critical, a wrong decision where the resulting action can still be corrected is sometimes better than none.
This is happening now in the case of two departments not agreeing on a critical procedure. This significantly and dangerously impacts our poultry and livestock sectors. They are already suffering tremendous losses because of the pandemic and subsidized imports at too low tariffs.
More than five months ago on March 1, an effective procedure for obtaining the necessary regulations for veterinary drugs and products came to a stop. A joint administrative order (JAO 2020-001) between the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) expired. This order, effective since 2013, specifies which agency should handle specific categories of veterinary drugs and products: either the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) under the DA, or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the DOH. Categories related to animal health would be handled by BAI, while those for human health would go to FDA.
However, conflicting department orders came out after the JAO 2020-001 expiration. The BAI and FDA both claimed jurisdiction over feed mixes and water-soluble supplements. In addition, pureform vitamins and minerals intended for incorporation into animal feeds were orphaned: BAI and FDA claimed it was the other’s responsibility.
Veterinary biologics were supposed to be transferred to FDA’s Center for Drug Regulation and Research which, however, is having trouble with its current workload. An Anti-Red Tape Authority report showed that 600 applications dating as far back as 2014 remained unprocessed. The unit assigned to handle veterinary drugs has less than five veterinarians. Also, veterinary biologicals are not an FDA priority, given the more critical concerns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, some veterinary products have to wait for six years to get approved. Expertise, impact
While FDA’s mandate is on human health, BAI’s mandate on animal health has made it develop expertise in this area. It has built the institutional know-how and resources over nine decades of experience in handling veterinary drugs and products. It has a working operational system with a network of regional and provincial feed and drug officers. There is an expansive monitoring system with a network of accredited third-party laboratories, as well as deep knowledge of animal health, production and welfare. Last March 1, things were going well until the order expired and no decision was reached by the DA and DOH on the next step. Consequently, the private sector did not know where to go for their regulatory requirements. The impact was disastrous. Private sector leaders cited the following:
- Regulatory application for veterinary drugs and products have no clear procedure. There is uncertainty among industry players, who fear they will get noncompliance penalties due to conflicting regulations
- Increased costs and late deliveries affect the downstream livestock and poultry sectors, which depend on those veterinary drugs and products. This delay means billions of pesos lost in productivity and opportunities. It also translates to higher prices for consumers
- With fast-paced technology from foreign competitors, our competitiveness suffers from these delays. We are already years behind our neighboring countries. The easy but misguided alternative of importation will be used again—not due to our producers’ wrongly accused inefficiency, but because of government’s inaction.
Action vs inaction
Both sides to an argument must always be heard. But when there is a stalemate, a wrong action is sometimes preferred to no action at all, as the first can still be corrected. Whether the cause for inaction is misplaced interdepartmental courtesy, plain stubbornness or misguided pride in not seeking outside help, the resulting damage affects the private sector deeply. This is unacceptable. In situations like this, I saw then President Fidel Ramos lock up the disagreeing parties in a room. He did not let them out until they reached a decision. When this was not possible, they agreed on a deadline for the final decision, but certainly, not as long as five months.
If the Executive Branch does not move, our senators and representatives should not only determine department budgets, but also know how these budgets are used. They should exercise their oversight functions and help prevent future cases like the one discussed here. Unless decisive instead of procrastinating action is done, the agriculture sector will have a difficult time recovering.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential programs and projects and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is [email protected]
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