Agriculture department urged to reveal ASF outbreak cause

MABALACAT CITY -- Members of the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (Pampi) have urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to reveal how the African Swine Fever (ASF) virus spread from a piggery in Montalban, Rizal.

The move was initiated to stop local government units from making unnecessary decisions, such as an arbitrary ban on all pork products.

The meat processors echoed their sentiment after Laguna became the 65th province to impose a ban on processed pork products amid the spread of ASF virus, which does not pose a threat to humans but could decimate the swine population.

ASF is a highly contagious hemorrhagic viral disease that affects domestic and wild pigs.

The hog illness is characterized by high fever, loss of appetite, hemorrhage in the skin and internal organs, often resulting in death, which follows from two days of infection.

There is no vaccine or treatment yet against ASF.

Processed meats are being blamed for the outbreak of ASF in Luzon although experts from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) suspected that swill feeding of pigs may have caused the outbreak.

BAI experts said ASF can be transmitted by direct contact, ingestion of garbage/swill feeds containing unprocessed infected pig meat or pig meat products, ticks and biting flies or contaminated premises, vehicles, equipment and clothing.

About 65 percent of hog raisers in the Philippines are backyard growers who do not regularly subject their animals to veterinary inspection and who mainly rely on swill for feeds.

The ASF virus can be easily carried by flies that swarm pork cuts in wet markets to backyard piggeries.

The ASF scare is killing the Philippine swine industry, which had a population of 12.78 million heads as of July 2018.

The Philippines is the world's eighth largest pork producer.

Pampi said that in imposing arbitrary ban on processed pork products, local government units ignored scientific evidence that processed products, which are cooked at high temperature, are incapable of spreading the ASF virus.

Meat processors informed the agriculture department that their products are cooked or steamed at temperatures over and above the cooking standard of 70 degree Celsius for 30 minutes set by the World Organization for Animal Health to destroy the ASF virus.

Pampi president Felix O. Tiukinhoy said that because of the arbitrary ban, its members "stopped purchases of pork materials since the finished products can no longer be sold."

"We do not want to expose ourselves to further risks by using locally sourced pork that could be laden with ASF. There could be unscrupulous suppliers who could pass off meat from ASF-infected pigs," he said.

Tiukinhoy said the ASF virus could easily spread because of the nature of the local hog industry.

"Even in the Visayas and Mindanao, it is not safe to buy pork materials even without ASF because of the presence of so many backyard raisers. Even some big hog companies there buy from backyard raisers when they cannot meet the demand. We believe they should voluntarily have their pigs tested for ASF too to assure the public," he said.

The arbitrary ban or restrictions on the sale and distribution of processed pork products is forcing some meat processing companies to downsize operations and lay off workers.

Tiukinhoy said Pampi member-companies are being forced to draw contingency measures to stay in business. These measures include downsizing operations and sending workers on a furlough or permanent lay-off.


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