Licensing of food businesses, processors only adds to MSMEs’ burdens-business groups

Three major business groups are calling for a review of the draft administrative circular on licensing and registration of food businesses, producers and processors as it will just be an added burden for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

The Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. (PHILEXPORT), and Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization (PHILFOODEX) said they are “seriously concerned about the impacts of the over regulation on the food and agriculture sectors and their stakeholders” if the draft order is approved.

This was their reaction to the draft “Guidelines on Licensing and Registration of Food Business Operators and Facilities in the Primary Production and Minimal Processing of Plant Food” recently released for comment by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI).

In a joint position paper sent to BPI director George Y. Culaste last month, the business groups said the proposed order could only lead to duplication in processes and fees throughout the supply chain because of the many agencies already involved in ensuring farm-to-table accountability of food producers and processors.

“We are in a pandemic and MSMEs are already in survival mode, with about 50% of enterprises already closed due to weakened market demand and inability to comply with many and expensive safety protocols,” they said.

“The additional burden from this regulation will slow down the recovery, if not kill the struggling MSMEs at this point of the current crisis.”

They also underscored that a number of existing accreditation systems and regulatory policies are already implemented by agencies in relation to food safety. Aside from the DA, these agencies include the Department of Health and Bureau of Customs as well as local government units.

On top of this, exporters must also comply with the strict import requirements and standards of buyers.

“Many of us are already compliant with standards such as Good Agriculture and Manufacturing Practice (GAP and GMP), HACCP, Halal and Kosher, all addressing accountability and traceability from farm to table,” they pointed out.

Further, the groups decried the heavy penalties provided for non-compliance of establishments.

They urged the BPI to review the draft circular to ensure that the private sector “is not unreasonably burdened.”

They also recommended that the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) could help to streamline documentary requirements and processes toward eventual automation to improve service and efficiency, and ensure business continuity of MSMEs.

In response, ARTA, led by Director General Jeremiah Belgica, has twice called for meetings with the stakeholders to help facilitate resolutions to the concerns raised by the business groups. Representatives from the Department of Agriculture have committed to review the internal processes to look into the issues.

Meanwhile, BPI director Culaste assured the groups via a letter of the agency’s support to the stakeholders in complying with the requirements. The agency will be conducting trainings and orientation seminars to guide the FBOs in their compliance, he said.

PCCI president Benedicto V. Yujuico, PHILEXPORT president Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. and PHILFOODEX president Roberto C. Amores also said their organizations are ready to participate in the review to help align the law to current realities and market situation.

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