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A tougher FDA policing

The country’s Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) came out last week with a warning to the public against buying certain cosmetic products. The FDA issued a public advisory on the list of these products apparently being peddled in the informal markets like neighborhood sari-sari stores all around the country.

According to the FDA advisory, the products – more than a dozen of them – have not been tested by the FDA prior to being made available to consumers. As such, the FDA warned they can not vouch for the safety of these products.

The FDA warning is nothing new. It issued a similar warning middle of last year. It aired a similar advisory in 2012 and 2013. During the same period, it banned certain imported cosmetic products from the market and issued a list of what it said are mercury-laden beautifiers.

The agency appears to be more intensive in monitoring the market well and is vigilant to keep the public more informed. On the other hand, we can only wonder why the perpetrators of the proliferation of toxic, untested and unregistered cosmetic products appear to be undeterred by the sustained warnings by the FDA.

These producers/sellers of toxic products either have no fear of the FDA, or they probably believe that majority of consumers have no access to FDA advisories.

This raises an important point. Is the country’s FDA toothless? Is it helpless in the face of the continuing flooding of the local market with questionable beauty products? If so, is it about time that we give this agency the power and resources it needs to enforce laws and go after unscrupulous parties exploiting our countrymen’s fascination with beauty and well-being?

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In a country where good looks is obviously an obsession among many people, we cannot make do with a passive FDA. The government would be remiss in its job of protecting the public from products that pose serious risks to them.

The publication AsianScientist underscores the urgency. According to its study, “unlike other industries buffeted by the winds of economic and socio-political change, the beauty and personal care industry has gone from strength to strength, earning it a “recession proof status.” Sales in Asia are “estimated to exceed $150 billion as early as 2017,” the publication noted.

The International Journal of Public Health, on the other hand, cited a study which refers specifically to popular use of skin whiteners in the Philippines. The study underscored a serious need for government intervention in this sector because “failure to do so would leave consumers extremely vulnerable to the forces of supply and demand that favor toxic whiteners.”

The study warned of massive “product adulteration and misbranding leading to pricing advantages for toxic whiteners over safer products.” In short, the products that most Filipinos can afford could be those that are unsafe. The most recent list released by the FDA makes “misbranding” already apparent.

Many noticed that the FDA list of untested and uncertified beauty products included such brand names such as Max Factor. This is baffling. How could a 118-year old brand name be peddled as a risky and uncertified product in the Philippines?

The brand is owned by multinational Procter and Gamble Philippines. That this conglomerate would skip the product registration process in the Philippines is highly unlikely to say the least. This can only lead to suspicions that the products indicated in the FDA warning are “misbranded” or, worse, plain counterfeits. This is alarming. In addition to posing serious health risks, our countrymen could be paying a premium for them.

This definitely calls for strong law enforcement efforts. The problem is urgent and must be addressed right away.

In fairness to the new FDA director-general, Nela Charade Puno, the agency appears to be tapping other available resources so it can perform its role of protecting the public from unscrupulous merchants peddling these products.

Puno enlisted the help of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to beef up the agency’s law enforcement mandate to protect all of us consumers from fake food and drug products. This is both sad and good news. This is sad because Puno’s initiative merely indicated the inadequacy of the resources of such a vital state agency. Good, because unlike before, the FDA has taken a proactive move to address a challenge rather than use this as excuse for failure to go after violators of the FDA rules and regulations.

We have sort of gotten used with the usual complaint by former FDA heads that the agency does not have enough financial resources to hire additional personnel for law enforcement duties. Puno’s initiative at tying up with the PNP for this task is a welcome change from the usual.

Puno is a magna cum laude graduate of pharmacy degree and is the first-ever professional pharmacist to occupy the post of FDA director-general. Her appointment appears to be the administration’s response to that long-time clamor from the pharmaceutical industry to have a pharmacist sit at the helm of this agency. The view is that a pharmacist would understand better the processes and the aspirations of the industry.

We hope that as a pharmacist, Puno has retained her ability to read prescriptions. At this point, the reseta – based on international studies – is for the agency she leads to show more teeth to halt the continuing exploitation of the beauty-seeking public in the hands of the backers of the underground cosmetics market.

Now, policing the cosmetics market is just one area under FDA’s menu of responsibilities. Based on its official mandate, the others are food, drugs, medical devices and hazardous household wastes.

We can only shudder at the thought that the exploitative tendencies of unscrupulous merchants now evident in the cosmetics sector are also being experienced in the food and drugs sectors. Only a stronger, better-equipped FDA can make their policing job more effective.

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Mea culpa. My apologies to former Defense Sec. Gilberto Teodoro on my erroneous reference of the word “chandlering” to a person. He mentioned this word commenting on the “sex-for-secret” case indicting several US Navy officers. Oxford dictionary defined “chandler” as a noun to mean a dealer in supplies and equipment for ships and boats. The accused US Navy officers were charged with accepting bribes from a Malaysian “chandler” while they were in Manila in 2008 when Teodoro was still Defense chief.


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