‘ASF protocol change to boost pork supply’

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday said it is considering changes in its protocol for controlling the spread of African swine fever (ASF) to ease the pressure on local pork supply and reduce the losses incurred by hog raisers.

In a speech on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said the agency will review its existing “1-7-10” protocol implemented by the government, particularly the 1-kilometer depopulation, or culling radius.

Dar disclosed that the DA is now looking at limiting the depopulation area to a 500-meter radius of the infected farm. He said this will ensure pork supply, as healthy pigs outside of the proposed 500-meter radius may be slaughtered and sold.

The DA chief explained that with the bigger radius, only 13 percent of the 210,000 pigs culled by the government were sick or infected by ASF, while some 190,000 are healthy.

“In a meeting with hog commercial leaders, they [asked] me if we can review the 1-7-10 protocol, particularly the 1-km [depopulation] radius. So, let’s study [changes in the] protocol,” Dar said in his speech during the first day of the International Farmers Summit in Pasay City.

“Only 13 percent of the depopulated pigs are sick, the number of healty pigs is higher. If they can still be slaughtered then it would have higher economic value,” he added.

Dar said he will instruct the DA’s ASF Crisis Management Team to review the protocol. He did not give a specific time line for its review.

The agriculture chief also appealed to private veterinarians to zero in on the proposal as they are experts on the matter.

“This [proposal] is being presented to the veterinarians. Are there other countries that have implemented [the proposed protocol]?” asked  Dar.

Philippine Veterinary Drug Association (PVDA) President Eugene Mende said his group will look into Dar’s proposal. Mende said he sees the proposal as a “feasible” mechanism to control the ASF outbreak while minimizing hog raisers’ losses and ensuring stable supply.

“The only important thing is that the pigs do not go outside of the infected zones. So, we will sit down, and study that proposal,” Mende told reporters in an interview.

Industry stakeholders and experts said a huge cut in the country’s pork supply may cause spikes in prices.

Dire projections

In a presentation during the plenary summit, Mende said the spread of the fatal hog disease, if left unchecked, could wipe out more than half of the country’s pig herd or almost 8 million heads. This projection was made by the PVDA in partnership with the local hog
industry stakeholders.

This, Mende said, will cause farm-gate prices to go up by 20 percent to more than 30 percent. The farm-gate prices of hogs may rise to P115 to P120 per kilogram.

“That is what will happen if we will do nothing to control ASF, and just let it spread across the country,” he said.

As a way of easing the pressure on pork supply, Dar said the government is promoting the production of rabbit meat as an alternative protein source, particularly for Filipinos who do not want to eat pork due to the ASF scare.

Dar said the production of rabbit meat involves a shorter cycle compared to that of  livestock or poultry, and it is cheaper than chicken.

“We are supportive of the rabbit industry. We are serious [about this]. Poultry is the No. 1 option, but rabbit meat is part of our basket of options,” he said.

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