THE Department of Agriculture (DA) has revived its Crisis Management Team (CMT) to contain the spread of a suspected animal disease that has been causing the death of backyard-grown pigs.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar assured that they "are on top of the situation" and that they are "doing everything possible" to protect the animal industry, including the imposition of stricter quarantine measures at all ports of entry, airports and seaports.

He also called on all hog raisers to implement bio-security measures.

"We call on all hog raisers – commercial players and particularly those engaged in backyard operations – to strictly observe and practice good livestock practices, including the needed bio-security measures," he said in a statement on Tuesday, August 20, Dar said they received an incident report on August 16 from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) about an "increased mortality of pigs raised by farmers in their backyards."

Dar said he has directed the BAI to send blood samples from the affected pigs to foreign laboratories and conduct further laboratory tests to determine the cause of animal death.

He said the crisis team will oversee the planning and implementation of appropriate measures to manage, contain, and control the suspected animal disease or diseases.

The team has been ordered to work closely with key industry players and local government officials to manage the incident and carry our ground-level operations.

"We will institutionalize the active participation of the private sector and LGUs and they will be part of the CMT from hereon to gain their full involvement and commitment, including other technical teams that will monitor and evaluate said recent events," he added.

Dar, in a press conference on Monday, said an unspecified number of pigs has died or been culled in backyard farms in recent weeks.

Dar couldn't immediately say if the cause was the contagious African swine fever.

"What we can say is that those suspected to have the disease are being culled, removed, buried and the place is disinfected," Dar told a news conference.

He refused to identify the affected area or province and disclose the number of pig deaths while containment efforts were underway. The results of the lab tests and other details would eventually be disclosed to the public, he said.

Nearly 5 million pigs have died or been culled in Asia due to the spread of the African swine fever, a contagious viral disease that afflicts domestic and wild pigs and was detected a year ago in the Asian region, according to the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization, or FAO.

African swine fever is harmless to people but fatal and highly contagious for pigs, with no known cure, causing severe losses in the swine industry. The disease has been reported in China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos and North Korea.

The FAO says latest data indicates current losses represent more than 10 percent of the total swine population in each of hard-hit China, Vietnam and Mongolia.

Some experts have said the spread of the swine fever is the largest known animal disease outbreak in history. (MVI/SunStar Philippines with AP)