Bird-flu case in Cabiao to delay resumption of chicken exports

Exporters would have to wait until the first quarter of 2018 for the Philippines to regain its bird flu-free status, after a new case of avian influenza (AI) was discovered in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija.

The discovery of AI in a layer farm in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, reset the country’s countdown to bird flu-free status. Under the Terrestrial Animal Health Code of the World Organisation for Animal Heath, or OIE, a country will only be declared free from bird flu if it would not report any outbreak within 90 days after the final disinfection of the affected areas.

Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) Animal Health and Welfare Division Chief Dr. Arlyn Vytiaco told the BusinessMirror that the Philippines may notify the OIE that it is bird flu-free as early as February next year, instead of the initial target date of December 20.

“Earliest [notification to the OIE] would be the last week of February,” Vytiaco said in a text message.

Earlier, BAI Officer in Charge Ronnie D. Domingo said the government wanted to notify the OIE that the Philippines is already bird flu-free by December 20, more than four months after the virus was discovered in San Luis, Pampanga.

“The OIE does not give official recognition. What is important is that we report to them 90  days after our last disinfection so that our report will come out  in the OIE database that the Philippines is already cleared of the
AI,” Domingo said.

“What our trading partners want to see is that we did something to arrest the problem,” Domingo added.

Due to the discovery of bird flu in Cabiao, Vytiaco said the import ban imposed by the country’s trade partners on Philippine poultry exports would remain in place.

At present, Philippine poultry exports are banned in a number of countries, including Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. The ban was imposed after the government announced in mid-August that bird flu struck Pampanga and Nueva Ecija.

On December 1 Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol confirmed that a poultry farm in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, was hit by bird flu, resulting in the culling of at least 40,000 layers.

The culling started on November 12 and ended on November 22. In an interview with reporters on December 3, Piñol said the incident is now under control and the Department of Agriculture (DA) is nearing the completion of its cleaning and disinfection procedures in the AI-affected farm.

The DA chief also said he does not expect the prices of broilers to decline significantly due to the latest bird-flu incident. “The earlier AI incident had a massive impact on the prices of chicken because we did not know what to do then. So we took extra precautionary measures because that time, we did not know the extent of the problem,” he said on the sidelines of the opening of the 14th Regular Session of Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission held in Pasay City last Sunday.

“But this time around, it is farm-specific. What was hit was one farm, in Cabiao. We did not make a big fuss out of it anymore [as] it is already under control,” Piñol added.

He disclosed that he received reports of “unusual chicken mortalities” in the Cabiao farm on November 12, and received confirmation that it was caused by bird flu on the same day. Piñol said the strain that hit the Cabiao farm was also H5N6.

Once the disinfection procedures are completed, the government will observe a 21-day rest period prior to the restocking of sentinel poultry, which will serve as determinants of the prescence of the bird-flu virus in the affected area, according to the AI Protection Program Manual of Procedures of 2016.

Piñol said the AI incident in the Cabiao farm has dealt a blow to efforts of the Philippines to be recognized as a bird flu-free country this month.

“We were expecting that we are already free from bird flu and already preparing to apply to the OIE. But this [Cabiao incident] has pushed back our timetable,” he said.