We must remain vigilant against ASF

Lockdown measures implemented by the government to contain the spread of Covid-19 slowed the pace of life in areas placed under quarantine. The shutdown of malls—considered the favorite stomping ground of city residents—and the lack of public transportation encouraged people to stay in their homes. Life under lockdown meant no mass gatherings, visiting relatives, or crossing borders to party with friends.

The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), an attached agency of the Department of Agriculture, said the lockdown of areas had benefited the hogs sector. Local hog raisers had grappled with African swine fever since it was first detected in a Rizal farm in July 2019 (See, “PHL report to OIE: ASF outbreaks started in July,” in the BusinessMirror September 12, 2019). The disease, which is fatal to hogs but is not harmful to humans, resulted in the culling of pigs and losses for raisers in ASF-infected areas.

According to BAI data, 298,844 pigs were culled since the fatal hog disease was first detected. About 15 percent to 20 percent of the culled pigs were infected with ASF and the total death count translates to 3 percent of the country’s total pig population, pegged at 12 million heads. The devastation caused by the hog disease caused the retail price of pork to jump to as much as P285 per kilogram in Metro Manila.

Hog farmers can breathe easy for now as the lockdown and the restrictions to mobility slowed the spread of ASF (See, “Lockdown slowed spread of fatal hog disease—BAI,” in the BusinessMirror, June 22, 2020). Cases declined by more than 60 percent to 20 per million pigs, from the pre-lockdown level of 60 per million pigs. The drastic reduction in the number of people and vehicles traveling helped the government prevent ASF outbreaks.

ASF is a disease that has the potential to spread rapidly as the virus can survive in fomites or nonliving objects. The World Organization for Animal Health said transmission can occur via contaminated clothes, shoes and tires due to the high environmental resistance of the virus that causes ASF. Unfortunately, a vaccine that could fight this disease has not yet been developed.

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, government and hog raisers must continue observing protocols aimed at preventing ASF outbreaks. The increase in people and vehicles traveling would mean more potential carriers of the ASF virus. Vigilance is a small price to pay for avoiding the damage that ASF could inflict not only on the local hog sector but also on the economy.

The disease may not be fatal to humans but it has the potential to deal a serious blow to the economy if more areas are struck by ASF and hog production declines drastically. The Covid-19 pandemic will make it difficult for the Philippines to source its pork requirements from other countries that have also been struck by ASF and the coronavirus. Ultimately, consumers would have to pay more for pork, one of the consequences of negligence.


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