Philippines may regain bird flu-free nation status by April–B.A.I.

The Philippines could regain its bird flu-free status by April, a month later than the government’s target date, as authorities experienced delays in sanitizing the affected farm in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija.

Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) Animal Health and Welfare Division Chief Aryln Vytiaco said provincial veterinarians in Central Luzon were not able to complete the cleaning and disinfection of a farm struck by bird flu in Cabiao before Christmas.

This, she noted, pushed back the government’s timetable for notifying the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) that the country is already free from avian influenza (AI).

“The critical part here is the last day of cleaning and disinfection. [Provincial veterinarians]  were not able to achieve it before Christmas, so they said they would finish it before the New Year,” Vytiaco told reporters in an interview recently.

“Probably, the earliest would be the first week of April,” she said when asked about the earliest possible date for notifying the OIE.

In its report to the OIE, the BAI said 42,000 birds were affected by the bird flu that struck the Fourth District of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. Of the total population, 27,675 instantly died from the virus, while the remaining 14,325 were killed and disposed of.

Under the Terrestrial Animal Health Code of the 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.

The discovery of AI in a layer farm in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, reset the country’s countdown to bird flu-free status, as the government has earlier targeted to notify the OIE that the country is free from the virus as early as December 20, after the cleaning and disinfection of AI-affected farms in San Isidro and Jaen, Nueva Ecija.

Earlier, Vytiaco said the country may lose its market share for poultry products in Japan if the Philippines will not be cleared from bird flu soon.

Citing industry reports, she said Japanese importers may be forced to source its chicken imports from other countries next year to fill in the supply void left by the Philippines after it was banned from exporting poultry products to Japan.

“The cold storages have been communicating with me, and they are saying that their problem is that, if it takes us so long to be AI-free, then we may lose our market for yakitori,” Vytiaco told reporters in an interview last December.

“The Philippines is banned from exporting yakitori chicken since August. Our traditional markets for yakitori could source products from other countries like Thailand if we’re unable to resolve the AI problem,” she added.

Local poultry products were banned by Japan last August after the Philippine government confirmed that bird flu struck a poultry farm in Pampanga.

At present, Philippine poultry exports are banned in a number of countries, including Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.  However, even before AI struck Central Luzon, Philippine chicken exports have been declining as government data indicated a double-digit drop in the volume of outbound shipments in January to July 2017.

Data from the BAI obtained by the BusinessMirror showed the country’s chicken-meat exports during the seven-month period reached 2,609.374 metric tons (MT), 12.23 percent lower than the previous year’s 2,973.064 MT. BAI data indicated that Japan was the sole buyer of chicken products exported by the Philippines during the period.

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Turning Points 2018