A GROUP of farmers blames what it called the unlimited and untested importation of pork into the Philippines for the continued spread of African swine fever (ASF) in the country, with the surge sparking fears of a pork shortage. This has prompted a senior lawmaker on Monday to urge the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) to consider a nationwide immunization drive to contain the killer pig disease.
For its part, the biggest alliance of farm producers sought hefty aid for their sector. “The government should look into providing assistance for local hog raisers and farmers, as there is no indemnification being given,” Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) Executive Director Jayson Cainglet said on Monday.
“It will not matter if you impose movement protocols and biosecurity measures in local farms and transport of live hogs if we continue to have unlimited entry of untested imported pork at the port of first entry,” he said.
“Local producers, especially backyard hog raisers, are facing severe difficulties when it comes to ASF protocols; but our ports are open to imported pork where no ASF tests are being conducted,” Cainglet added.
He noted that “since late last year, private and local government units [in the case of Cebu] were the ones compensating backyard farmers hit by ASF. Why is it that the enthusiasm and zest to support and protect pork importers is not seen for local raisers?”
Maybe, he said, “local hog raisers can instead be the ones given assistance.”
Cainglet wondered aloud whether authorities intend to “wait for all the pork in the country to be exhausted? Or is that what they want?”
All regions hit
Meanwhile, the DA said all regions in the country were affected by ASF, save for Metro Manila which has no hog raisers in the region.
Among the specific areas said to be ASF-free as of end-March were Aklan, Albay, Antique, Batanes, Biliran, Bohol, Bukidnon, Eastern Samar, Ilocos Sur, La Union, Oriental Mindoro, Misamis Oriental, Negros Occidental, Palawan, Quirino and Romblon.
Urgently needed: vaccines
Meanwhile, Camarines Sur Rep. Lray Villafuerte warned that if the current surge of ASF is unchecked, such could wreak havoc on the domestic hog population and further drive up the already elevated inflation, as a result of possibly another upward price spiral in pork products.
“An immunization drive to prevent the reported surge in ASF outbreak from getting worse has now become doable, following Vietnam’s discovery last year and subsequent use of the world’s first vaccine to beat this deadly disease, and the ongoing field trials that local agribusiness companies have already been doing here in our country to check the efficacy of this new drug in the Philippine setting,” he said.
The lawmaker said once this new veterinary drug is proven, at the end of local field trials, to be as effective as an anti-ASF drug in the Philippines as it has been in Vietnam since its discovery last year, “the BAI should weigh the feasibility of implementing a nationwide anti-ASF drive to help especially the backyard raisers to save their animals—and stave off another undue spike in pork prices that could further drive up the already elevated inflation.”
The BAI itself revealed in a March 27 report that all of the country’s regions, with the sole exception of Metro Manila, have been infected with ASF, higher than the BAI-reported 7 regions only last February.
BAI data showed that 54 provinces in the country’s 16 regions have reported ASF outbreaks, the latest being the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which recorded its first case in Maguindanao del Sur.
DA Assistant Secretary and spokesman Rex Estoperez confirmed the warning by the National Livestock Program (NLP) of a possible shortage of over 46,000 metric tons (MT) of pork in June, as against the projected demand of 145,849 MT.
Also, NLP director Ruth Miclat-Sonaco revealed in the DA’s consultation with stakeholders that the country could start experiencing a domestic pork shortage as early as April, with a possible shortfall of 11 days equivalent to some 56,000 MT.
To the government’s credit, the DA and BAI have carried out initiatives such as hog repopulation and the Bantay ASF sa Barangay (BaBay ASF), Villafuerte said. He added that he learned many industry players continue to hesitate to reinvest 100 percent in their businesses because of the continued outbreak threats.
“These swine industry players who suffered heavy financial losses after ASF resurfaced in 2019 apparently fear losing more money in the future in the absence of any assurance that ASF outbreaks will be a thing of the past,” he said. “And it seems that the only way to boost their confidence in reinvesting 100 percent in the industry is if the government can shield their pig stocks from future ASF outbreaks by way of an immunization program.”
Villafuerte made this proposal to BAI after the farm advocacy group Sinag criticized the government’s slow response to ASF despite the doubling of the number of affected regions from 7 in February to 15 in early March.
ASF is a viral disease infecting pigs, with a fatality rate of up to 100 percent. It has decimated swine industries worldwide since its resurgence, first in China, in 2018.
This disease is responsible for a 50-percent drop in the local swine population after ASF resurfaced in the Philippines in 2019 and spread across over 50 provinces by 2022, devastating commercial pig farms and backyard raisers and causing an annual revenue loss of P100 billion for allied industries.
There was a nearly 25-percent decline in pork output in the period from June to October 2021 as against the same four months in 2020, driving retail prices up to P400 a kilo from the earlier per-kilo average of P250.
As of April 4, the DA’s Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Service (AMAS)-Bantay Presyo reported that retail prices in Metro Manila markets ranged from P330 to P420 for a kilo of fresh pork and P260 to P320 for frozen pork.
Villafuerte said BAI could consider following the lead of the Hanoi government, which was set to distribute nationwide the world’s first commercially available anti-ASF vaccine developed by AVAC Vietnam Joint Stock Co.
He claimed that reports reaching his office revealed that this same vaccine being used in Vietnam is now undergoing trials in four Philippine farms under BAI supervision.