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DA to ensure cattle imports from Brazil will be free from foot-and-mouth disease

Brazilian cowboys guide cattle to the stable in a farm near Baje, in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. (AP)

The Department of Agriculture (DA) will see to it that live cattle to be imported from Brazil would be free from the highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), which usually affects cattle, pigs and sheep.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said he would personally lead a technical team that would inspect the Girolando heifers that the Philippines would purchase from Brazil next year.

Piñol added that the heifers would only be sourced from the state of Santa Catarina, the
lone area in Brazil that currently enjoys the FMD-free without vaccination status.

“We cannot be indiscriminate. We fully undertstand the risk [of FMD]. That’s why we will be very discerning and be very careful [with the importation],” he told reporters in an interview on Monday.

“We are bringing a technical team to Brazil this December, and I will be leading the delegation that will visit the area of Santa Catarina,” Piñol added.

The DA chief’s pronouncement comes after industry players from the local livestock sector raised concerns over the importation of meat from Brazil.

Hog raisers belonging to the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines (ProPork) warned against lifting the ban on meat imports from Brazil, which has been accorded the FMD-free but with vaccination status by the World Organisation for Animal Health or OIE.

They argued that importing meat products from Brazil may “endanger” the local hog sector and the country’s “FMD-free without vaccination” status.

ProPork President Erwin G. Chen told the BusinessMirror earlier that, during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the government imported 2,000 heads of Murad buffaloes from Brazil. More than 100 heads were found to be infected with FMD. Piñol disclosed that a pool of Argentinian experts would also aid the Philippines in determining which Girolando heifers to be imported.

“We will also have the assistance of Argentinian experts. They will help us select the breeding cattle to be brought into the country and they will also check if they are FMD-free,” he said.

The DA is also targeting to source fertilized cattle embryos from Argentina in its bid to boost the Philippine dairy sector. The government had crafted a five-year dairy and livestock development road map to prop up Philippine dairy production.

Piñol revealed that the DA is planning to tap the expertise of Argentinian firm Genex Biotech Group in embryo-transfer (ET) technology. “Genex will handle the embryo transfer and will select the heifers ideal for impregnation using fertilized embryos.”

The DA is eyeing to import 6,000 heads of Girolando heifers next year, which will be all fertilized through ET, according to Piñol. He added that the ET process will happen here in the Philippines once the Girolando heifers have arrived and have passed quarantine procedures.

“At an average birth rate of 70 percent, we are expecting that after the first year, we will have an additional 3,500 heads. This is on top of the 6,000 that will be imported,” Piñol said.

Should the deal with Genex push through, Piñol said the government will pay the company P35,000 for every live cattle born.

The importation of Girolando cattle from Brazil is part of the DA’s plan to ramp up local milk production to meet at least 10 percent of annual domestic requirement by 2022 and reduce the country’s reliance on imports. The DA is allotting at least P1 billion for the live cattle-importation program.

“Our target is to bring in 500,000 heifers by the end of the term of the President. As to whether we will have the money to procure the cattle, the answer will largely depend on the performance of the first batch of heifers,” Piñol said.

“If the performance [of the program] is excellent, then we will be able to convince our economic managers that this program is worth the government’s investment,” he added. Based on the latest database of the OIE, the Philippines is among the 66 recognized FMD-free countries where vaccination is not practiced.

The OIE officially recognized the Philippines as a country free from FMD without vaccination in May 2015. The OIE also recognized the country as free of Peste des Petits Ruminants, a highly contagious disease affecting small ruminants, that same year.

The OIE database also shows that the state of Santa Catarina is the only area in Brazil that is recognized as FMD-free without vaccination since 2007.

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