Where’s the pesticide advisory body?

The Pesticide Policy and Technical Advisory Committee (PPTAC) under the Fertilizers and Pesticides Authority (FPA) of the Department of Agriculture has not been convened since the 1990s, said Dr. Lynn Panganiban, officer in charge of the National Poison Control and Information Service.

Panganiban, a member of the committee, raised the question at the city council hearing on the proposed ordinance to ban aerial spraying in agricultural plantations last week.

Proponents of the ban brought up environmental and health hazards caused by aerial spraying.

The PPTAC is a recommendatory body, “which addresses the various issues and problems related to pesticides.” The role of the PPTAC “in the process of banning a particular pesticide is basically the initiation/recommendation to ban it.” 

Through reports and studies conducted by developed countries on a particular pesticide, the PPTAC and members of the Pesticide Regulatory Services Division may recommend the banning of a certain pesticide. 

Toxicologist Dr. Romeo Quijano, chair of the Pesticides Action Network, told MindaNews that the PPTAC, although merely recommendatory, could have helped regulate the pesticides industry to prevent application of hazardous chemicals.

According to literature available through the internet, the PPTAC is a recommendatory body “which addresses the various issues and problems related to pesticides.” The role of the PPTAC “in the process of banning a particular pesticide is basically the initiation/recommendation to ban it.” 

Quijano wants a ban on aerial spraying.

He said it is the moral responsibility of the government to protect the  people from the health hazards caused by chemicals used in aerial spraying,  which, he said, affect not only those living near plantations but other persons as well.

Quijano, a member of a PPTAC sub-committee on toxicology, told MindaNews in a telephone interview Monday that while the FPA did not dissolve PPTAC, it did not also convene it.

He cannot recall when the PPTAC last met.

Norlito Gicana, Fertilizer and Pesticides Authority executive director, told the councilors on Aug. 23 that they follow a process on approval of pesticides and its applications in farms. But he gave no categorical answer about the PPTAC, Quijano said.

Gicana said they welcome a technical report on the alleged hazardous effects of the fungicides and pesticides used in aerial spraying so they could act on it.  

But Panganiban asked "who will evaluate these reports if the PPTAC is not convened?".

Citing the FPA’s alleged "flawed regulatory function,” Quijano said it should “change its regulatory framework to include the protection of the health of the people and the environment," he said. 

But Panganiban said it is very expensive to impose regulations and institutionalize monitoring systems.

“Just keep it simple. Ban it,” Quijano said, invoking the internationally accepted precautionary principle.

Davao City councilor Leonardo Avila, who chairs the environment committee proposing the banning ordinance, said there won't be adverse effects to the environment and the health of the people if only the FPA is doing its job.

"The FPA should take charge…. We have complaints here and there on its use and side effects," he said.

The FPA in its website, states that it regulates pesticide handlers such as importers, traders, exporters, distributors, repackers, formulators, suppliers, local subsidiaries, treatment and recycling plants and dealership.

There are products or services given full registration or renewal valid for three years but there are also conditional registrations or renewal on an annual basis.

FPA requires aside from a notarized application form and other legal and corporate requirements for licensing, the submission of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and a pre-licensing inspection report by the Pesticide Audit Team.

For registration of an active ingredient, such as fungicide propiconazole used in aerial spraying, FPA requires support certification.

A sample of the material to be registered must be submitted prior to registration unless the applicant presents convincing reason to FPA on why these should not be submitted, the FPA website stated.

Gicana said at the time the chemicals used in aerial spraying were submitted to the FPA, they found the samples safe for application.

Avila said if only regulatory bodies like the FPA function well, business and environment sectors need not become "strange bedfellows".  

"There could be a workable solution for sustainable development," he said.

But the city will stick to the precautionary measure, Avila said. “We will ban aerial spraying and find workable solution after that," he said. 

Avila said if the city council fails to pass the ordinance, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte will likely issue an executive order not to renew annual permits of the banana companies.  (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)