The government is appealing to Japan and South Korea to reconsider the total ban it has imposed on Philippine poultry products, after Manila confirmed to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) the outbreak of bird flu in Pampanga.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol told the BusinessMirror that the government would ask Seoul and Tokyo to limit the ban on poultry products from areas affected by bird flu.
“We assure our trade partners that our poultry products are safe. We have already contained the outbreak in San Luis, Pampanga, because we have instituted stringent quarantine measures,” Piñol said.
“We are very strict in controlling the bird-flu incident. We are not allowing poultry products from San Luis to exit the area,” he added.
Documents obtained by the BusinessMirror indicated that Philippine Ambassador to Seoul Raul S. Hernandez has appealed to South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (Mafra) to impose a “selective temporary ban” on Philippine poultry products from Pampanga instead of a blanket ban.
“The embassy wishes to appeal to the Korean government to reconsider its decision to prohibit the importation of Philippine chicken meat on the following grounds,” Hernandez said in his letter to Mafra Minister Kim Yung-rok dated August 16.
“The only area affected by the H5 strain of the avian-influenza virus is the town of San Luis in Pampanga province as attested to by the OIE. Due to strict quarantine measures, movement control, zoning and disinfection being conducted by the competent Philippine government authorities, other areas in Luzon, as well as the Visayas and Mindanao regions, have not been affected by the H5 strain of the avian influenza virus,” he added.
Hernandez also said the two accredited Philippine chicken exporters to South Korea are not located in Pampanga. LDP Farms Food Corp. is in La Union, while Johanna’s Chicken Processing Center is in Quezon. The two are affiliated with San Miguel Purefoods Co. Inc. (SMPCI).
“The Philippine government fully respects Mafra’s adherence to the implementation of Korean regulations for imported food but would like to appeal to Mafra to reconsider its decision to ban the importation of Philippine chicken meat from the Philippines as a selective temporary ban,” Hernandez said.
He noted that in 2014, the Philippines only imposed a “selective” temporary ban on the importation of poultry and poultry products from Jellabuk-Do and Jeollanam-Do, South Korea, which were hit by bird flu.
“In view of the aforecited reasons, the embassy looks forward to Mafra’s reconsideration of its earlier decision to impose a total ban on imported Philippine chicken meat,” he said.
Hernandez made the appeal to Mafra just a few days before the Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed that bird flu has also affected two towns in Nueva Ecija.
“If that is the appeal of our ambassador then we support that,” Piñol said. “I agree that the established firms exporting to South Korea are following serious and strict biosecurity protocols.”
The government had been banking on its bird flu-free status to expand its shipments of chicken products to South Korea.
The DA chief also said he will make a formal appeal to Tokyo to impose a selective temporary ban instead of a total ban on Philippine poultry exports.
Japan is the Philippines’s biggest market for chicken products, particularly Yakitori chicken.
SMPCI, the country’s top chicken exporter, told the BusinessMirror earlier that it has decided to postpone its shipment of about 200 metric tons (MT) of chicken products to Japan.
The food unit of San Miguel Corp. has been exporting chicken products to Japan for more than a decade.
In an official communication dated August 14, Mafra informed the Philippine Agriculture Office (PAO) in Seoul that it has “prohibited the importation of Philippine fresh, chilled, frozen chicken meat and pet birds” effective August 12.
“The Philippine government is requested to stop issuing Korean export quarantine certificate and export shipment of chicken meat and pet birds from August 12,” read the official communication, which was translated by the PAO office.
“Please note that chicken meat and pet birds shipped from August 12 will be treated as import-prohibited items,” it added.
However, the Mafra clarified that any poultry shipments from Manila that are scheduled to arrive before the effectivity of the temporary ban will be allowed to enter South Korea only if these pass the additional quarantine requirements.
“Philippine pet birds, which are in the process of import quarantine or scheduled to arrive [except for the shipment from August 12], will undergo additional clinical examination and HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] medical examination [antigen examination],” the Mafra said.
“Philippine chicken meat, which is in the process of import quarantine or scheduled to arrive [except for the shipment from August 1], will undergo strengthened examination,” the Mafra added.
Tokyo also informed Manila of its decision to prohibit Philippine poultry products from entering Japan via an official communication dated August 14.
Japan’s Chief Veterinary Officer Norio Kumagai addressed his letter to Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Livestock Enrico P. Garzon Jr.
“This is to inform you that we have suspended the import of poultry products [other than feather and down] from the Philippines as of August 12, based on the information on the detection of HPAI [virus serotype H5] at a poultry farm in the Philippines, which was notified to the OIE by your authority,” the letter read, a copy of which was obtained by the BusinessMirror.
However, Kumagai said poultry products produced before July 2 will be allowed to enter Tokyo.
“According to the information provided to the OIE, the date of start of the event is the July 24. Based on this date and the maximum incubation period of avian influenza [21 days], we have estimated the earliest date of exposure as the 3rd of July,” he added.
“Poultry products attached with health certificates certifying that the products were produced in the Philippines on and before July 2 and were stored and handled in a way to prevent exposure of pathogens of any animal infectious diseases prior to shipment will be the exception from the suspension,” Kumagai said.
Piñol said the government has finished culling 200,000 birds within the 1-kilometer contain area of ground zero farms in San Luis, Pampanga. The government will observe a 21-day rest period before deploying sentinel birds in the ground zero area.
Should the sentinel birds show no signs of bird flu after 35 days, then the area will be declared free from the virus, according to Piñol.
The DA announced last Friday that bird flu has also struck Jaen and San Isidro in Nueva Ecija. The government is targeting to finish the culling of 246,510 birds in Jaen and 105,000 birds in San Isidro by August 25.
Image credits: Nonie Reyes