By Cai U. Ordinario & Bernadette D. Nicolas
The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday said African swine fever (ASF) has not reached epidemic level in the Philippines, as only farms in several areas in Bulacan and Rizal were struck by the virus.
Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said the ASF episodes may be considered an outbreak, but not an epidemic.
“[I am appealing] to the media and the general public not to ignite fears regarding ASF, as unverified and unvalidated reports could cause irreversible damage to the country’s P260-billion swine industry,” Dar said in a statement.
The DA chief noted that small backyard raisers account for two-thirds, or 65 percent of the industry.
Both Dar and Bureau of Animal Industry Officer in Charge Ronnie Domingo said the ASF outbreaks in Rizal and Bulacan have been contained.
Dar said 7,416 pigs in the 1-kilometer radius in Rizal and Bulacan have already been depopulated, following the “1-7-10” protocol of the DA to manage, contain and control the spread of the disease.
He said continuous strict surveillance is being conducted in areas near ASF-infected barangays in Rizal and Bulacan.
Dar said the death of hogs will not affect the supply and prices of pork in the market, stressing that the ASF is confined and specific in certain areas only and not in the entire country.
In a radio interview on Monday morning, Domingo said the DA will meet with local officials and backyard hog raisers to enlighten them about the disease.
He said the DA will set up checkpoints in affected areas to ensure that live animals passing through these areas have the necessary veterinary health certificate permits.
As for meat products, Domingo said these must be accompanied by meat inspection certificates to ensure that the products are ASF-free.
Personnel from the BAI, an attached agency of the DA, have been deployed to slaughterhouses and on alert. Only healthy animals will be accepted in these slaughterhouses.
He also said the DA and BAI have launched an education campaign for hog raisers.
The ASF is highly contagious and fatal to hogs as there is no known vaccine developed to fight the disease, which was first detected in 1920, according to Domingo.
Citing studies on ASF, he said the symptoms do not immediately appear until the virus has multiplied. The symptoms only become evident when the hog is already dead or when the animal is about to die.
Domingo also debunked the claims of some hog raisers that their animals died of hog cholera. “When we tested the pigs from Rizal for hog cholera, the result was negative. That’s a laboratory test. When we tested it for ASF, the result was positive.”
Malacañang does not believe that the DA spoke too soon when it said that the hog disease had been contained even after dead pigs were found in a Quezon City creek and Marikina River a few days ago.
The discovery of the dead pigs came days after the DA announced that the “mystery” hog disease that killed pigs in Bulacan and Rizal was ASF.
“The DA investigated the incident so its statement is based on its findings. As far as the [DA] is concerned, the agency can handle it properly. If there are isolated cases in one place, then the DA will take care of that,” said Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo.
The DA has also refuted the announcement made by Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte that the dead hogs found in a creek in the city tested positive for ASF. The agency said the blood samples will still be sent to World Organisation for Animal Health-accredited laboratory in the United Kingdom for confirmatory testing.
On Sunday, DA Spokesman Noel O. Reyes told CNN Philippines Belmonte’s announcement was not incorrect but was simply “too early.”
Belmonte, however, insisted that the figures she cited came from the BAI.
Image credits: AP/Bullit Marquez