Published 6 December 2019, The Daily Tribune

We Filipinos are a food-loving country. With the Christmas holidays coming in, many families are already planning their noche buena, their food travel itineraries, and even the various restaurants they will try.

From the perspective of law, food is considered as a universal human right. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognized the right to food as part of the right to an adequate standard of living. It is considered as an aspect of human dignity and a component of social, political and economic progress, hence national governments have primary responsibility for ensuring the right to adequate and safe food.

Recognizing the State’s duty to promote the right to health of the people and protect consumers from trade malpractices and from substandard or hazardous products, in 2013, Republic Act No. 10611  or the Food and Safety Act was put into law to safeguard the proper handling and process of food and to establish the country’s food safety regulation system.

Food safety refers to the assurance that food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared or eaten according to its intended use. Food hygiene, on the other hand, refers to the measures and conditions necessary to control hazards that could lead to food-borne illnesses and to ensure fitness for human consumption of a food of plant or animal origin taking into account its intended use.

The key government agencies tasked to implement and uphold the food safety standards set by the Food and Safety Act are the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Interior  and Local Government (DILG) and various local government units (LGUs), with each agency performing crucial tasks relevant to food safety.

The DA is tasked with developing and enforcing food safety standards and regulations for food in the primary production and post-harvest stages of the food supply chain, including meat, poultry, dairy, harvest, and other agriculture-related products. Meanwhile, the DOH is responsible for the safety of processed and pre-packaged foods and to monitor and  conduct epidemiological studies on foodborne diseases. The DILG supervises the enforcement of the Food and Safety Act and other sanitary rules. On the other hand, the LGUs have the power to inspect and determine compliance of various businesses in their locality, to enforce the Food and Safety Act and Code on Sanitation of the Philippines (Presidential Decree No. 856, December 23, 1975), and are responsible for sanitation in public markets, slaughter houses, micro and small food processing establishments, and public eating places.

During a crisis, the Food Safety Regulation Coordinating Board, largely composed of the foregoing national agencies, establishes policies and procedures in food safety decision making, crisis management and planning. For instance, where it is evident that food originating from within the country or imported from another country is likely to constitute serious risk to human health, the Board may suspend distribution in the market or the use of the food in question, lay down special conditions and use any other appropriate interim measures. If the food is imported, the Board may suspend the importation of the food from all or parts of the third country concerned.

Where necessary, food inspections are carried out under the supervision of food safety officers or equivalent personnel who are graduates of food-related courses including chemistry, food and nutrition, food technology, microbiology, chemical/sanitary engineering, veterinary medicine, fisheries, agriculture.

On the other hand, food business operators, such as restaurant owners, are responsible for ensuring that the requirements of the law are met by the food business under one’s control. They are obligated by law to ensure that food satisfies the requirements of food law relevant to their activities in the food supply chain and that control systems are in place to prevent, eliminate or reduce risks to consumers.

Any person who shall violate any provision of the Food and Safety Act may be fined ranging from P50,000 to P500,000, and sentenced to imprisonment from one month to six years and one day, depending on the resulting harm to a person. For violation resulting in slight, less serious, or serious physical injury of a person, upon conviction, the offender shall also pay the hospitalization and rehabilitation cost of a person. If death results, permanent revocation of appropriate authorization to operate a food business shall be imposed.

As the holidays draw near, momentum towards more stringent food safety regulation and supervision is expected in order that the public enjoy the Yuletide season with bountiful and safe food.

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