PAMPANGA Governor Dennis Pineda directed the agriculture and veterinary officials to implement measures to prevent the possible entry of African swine fever (ASF) in the province amid reports of hog mortality in several areas in Luzon.

Pineda met with several Pampanga mayors, representatives from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Provincial Agriculture Office to assess the current biosecurity measures in Pampanga.

He ordered the immediate survey of all livestock farms in Pampanga, as well as an overall inventory of the current backyard hog populations in the province.

Pineda also ordered the immediate reporting of pig deaths in the province.

Also on Monday, August 19, Agriculture Secretary William Dar neither confirmed nor denied reports that the ASF virus has reached the Philippines.

The agriculture chief, however, had ordered the testing of tissue samples for all types of pig disease.

Samples have already been sent to foreign laboratories for confirmatory testing, which may take two weeks to three months.

The DA received reports from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) on August 16 about the increased mortality of pigs raised by farmers in their backyards.

Dar said culling operations are now being undertaken on areas identified in the report. But the agriculture chief did not provide details.

Crisis team activated

The DA, meanwhile, 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.

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 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 (local government units) 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, August 19, said an unspecified number of pigs have died or been culled in backyard farms in recent weeks.

Dar could not immediately say if the cause was the contagious ASF.

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

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 five million pigs have died or been culled in Asia due to the spread of the ASF, a contagious viral disease that afflicts domestic and wild pigs and was detected a year ago in the Asian region, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

ASF 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 said latest data indicate 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. (With MVI of SunStar Philippines and AP)