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PIGS are considered friendly and intelligent creatures, ideal to raise as a form of livelihood. But once infected by the deadly African swine fever (ASF), they can be a different kind of beast for hog raisers.
Since the disease’s first outbreak in the Philippines in 2019, the hog industry consisting of commercial and backyard growers has grappled with losses amounting to P200 billion, according to Engr. Rosendo So, who heads the umbrella alliance SINAG, or Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura.
In the search for signs of hope to uplift the industry, there were initial indications of progress in the development of anti-ASF vaccines. However, the optimism began to wane as subsequent developments unfolded.
ASF vaccine woes
THE ASF vaccine currently being tested is not yet “100 percent ready” to be commercially available and be injected into hogs, an industry group told the BusinessMirror, and suggested that protocols for the trial have to be fixed first.
Rallying for transparency, the hog industry must know the details regarding the trial such as who is being tested and where are the testing locations.
“Open tayo na may trial, pero dapat ay open book sila [We are open to trials, but they must be conducted in an open-book manner],” said So.
“May mga vaccine na tinest. Nalaman namin na namatay yung mga baboy up to 1,000 heads and ang nawala sa kanya ay P10 million [There are vaccines that have been tested. We found out that up to 1,000 pigs have died and the loss amounted to P10 million],” he revealed. ”
As 70 percent of the whole country remains infected with ASF, So said that with the live vaccines—which should be isolated—the virus could eventually spread through shedding.
To boost the immunity of hogs against ASF, sows are administered the vaccine, and their immunity can be passed on to the piglets, explained So.
The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), through its deputy chief, earlier reported a 100-percent success in the field trial of the AVAC ASF live vaccine.
A vet’s take
THE preliminary trial results of a Vietnamese-manufactured vaccine based on BAI’s data look “promising,” declared swine veterinary consultant Dr. Rolando Cruz, but he was quick to question the parameters used in the trial: “Is it just based on their perception of how to evaluate it?”
Cruz said some farms who already injected their pigs with the vaccine said it was good, while some said not.
“It’s vague. You can’t really conclude if it’s really effective or not, so that’s why I told everybody that we should give them more time to do the vaccine so that once they release it, it is already an effective vaccine. We don’t need to rush,” he told the BusinessMirror.
Among the four vaccine companies dwelling on the research and trials, Cruz revealed that most of them have unfortunately failed.
“That’s how complex [the virus] is, so that’s why we have to give them more time and test to different animals. The more the better so that you can have a statistically significant result,” he said.
For the swine veterinarian, the vaccine is 60 percent ready for commercial use but it should be at 100 percent and there have to be no gray areas.
“If effective, then we can use it right away in order for us to have a day one in producing more pigs,” he said. However, if there is any skepticism towards the vaccine, “We have to slow down and bring all things in the table, and discuss again how to go about it. Otherwise, isang pagkakamali diyan malaki ang magiging impact [Otherwise, a single mistake could have a significant impact],” he said.
Assuming the vaccine has been approved and injected into pigs, Cruz said it has no effect on humans if they consume pork vaccinated against ASF.
He elaborated that the virus itself has no negative effects on humans, as it primarily affects pigs and spreads from pig to pig.
Strategic biosecurity measures
WHEN asked if the vaccine is the only solution to stop ASF, Cruz firmly said “no.”
“I’m happy to say that without the vaccine, we were able to survive 30 to 40 farms without the vaccine and still very stable now,” he said.
Pushing for strategic biosecurity measures as an “efficient way to manage ASF,” Cruz said having a disinfectant is not enough, and instead, companion steps must be taken, such as eliminating animals such as dogs and cats from roaming around farms—to prevent the transmission of the virus from one farm to another—and modifying buildings to be protected from contamination.
So also said biosecurity is important in farms: monitoring the movement of people, of the feeds, and those who enter the area.
“Biosecurity pa rin ang kailangan sa mga farm [Biosecurity is still needed in farms],” he stated.
Government mulls over subsidizing vax
AGRICULTURE Undersecretary for Livestock Deogracias Victor Savellano told the BusinessMirror they are mulling over subsidizing the ASF vaccines in the future, but also stressed the need to first ensure they are safe and effective. Should those under trial be proven effective, then it is “possible.”
“The vaccine under trials must be proven to be safe, sterile and effective following all standards and universally acceptable protocols,” Savellano said in his speech during the National Federation of Hog Growers Inc.’s general meeting, aimed at achieving the return of the “glory days” of the Philippine swine industry and repopulating amidst the threat of ASF.
He added that the Department of Agriculture’s direction for livestock is toward prioritizing local production of livestock and products, minimizing importation to keep consumer market prices low, and ensuring profit margin for livestock farmers, thereby creating more livelihood opportunities.
To vax or not?
At the end of the day, Cruz said the vaccine is “very important” and it will “prevent the spread of the disease.”
However, hog growers must “be sure” and “use a very safe and effective vaccine” to avoid wasting money and the risk of introducing the virus to their farms; otherwise, as Cruz put it, “Para kang nag-suicide non [It’s like committing suicide].”
He said those “serious” about producing pigs and implementing biosecurity measures will survive the virus until the vaccine becomes commercially available.
“For me, just secure your farms from contaminants and you’ll be fine,” Cruz stated.
It will be a big challenge for the bureau if they will approve the vaccines or not, said Cruz. “Kasi at the end of the day, ang tanong dyan, ‘Who will be accountable?’ Of course, the one who approved the vaccine [Because at the end of the day, the question is, ‘Who will be accountable?’ Of course, the one who approved the vaccine].”