Domoguen: What to do with ASF in the Cordillera

Mountain Light

(Conclusion of a two-part series article)

OUR first article asked stakeholders, what would they do if an outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) occurs in their localities?

In any situation such as this, the first thing to do is to have enough information and knowledge about the problem. It is only when you understand a problem that you can effectively start solving it.

So in our previous article, we gave you the technical description of ASF, its characteristics, and how it is transmitted.

We then discussed the 1-7-10 quarantine protocol of government in containing ASF should an outbreak occur in our localities.

Following the protocol on ASF, and strictly speaking only the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture can technically declare that suspected areas are affected and/or are cleaned off of the disease.

We also highlighted bits of information about the history of ASF beginning with its first detection in Africa in 1900 and spread to several countries in Europe and Asia.

The history of the disease informs us that the more sophisticated countries in Europe and also authoritarian governments like Russia and China were unable to prevent the entry and spread of this fatal hog disease in their countries.

It is interesting to note that China, the world’s largest producer of pork has been suffering from ASF since last year (2018).

It produces a popular canned pork product called Maling. Following processing standards, protocols and procedures for canned goods, the ASF virus could have been killed. Frozen meat imports from China, both through legal means and worst through smuggling, is what should put the country into high alert at all times.

I believe responsible stakeholders are all trying to do their part well, along with this concern.

During a Senate hearing sometime in March (2019), the National Federation of Hog Farmers questioned why the country allowed “the importation and entry of as much as 440 million kilograms (kg) of meat, leading to buffer stock that could last for 60 to 70 days.”

With a 94 percent self-sufficiency rate, the federation noted the Philippines can already make do without pork importation.

The country may not import pork if supply is sufficient, available, accessible, and affordable to all.

Meanwhile, in a statement released to the media, the Philippine Association of Meat Processors, Inc. (PAMPI) said they will not purchase pork from domestic farmers to assure the public about their products’ safety.

“We believe that it is safer for the meat processing industry not to buy local pork until they are able to assure government authorities and the consuming public that local pork is ASF-free,” the statement read.

PAMPI generally imports 95 percent of its pork and will import all its requirements from countries not affected by ASF.

The industry is currently battling against local government unit restrictions on the movement of its products and expects to lose P40 billion in sales if restrictions are not lifted during the year-end holidays, the peak sales period for processed meat like ham.

So far, there is no vaccine or treatment for ASF. But this should not leave us helpless and do nothing.

Firstly, ASF is not zoonotic. There is no need to panic or worry because the disease cannot be transmitted from animals to people. More specifically, it is a disease that normally exists in animals but will not infect humans.”

That being the case medical experts adequately issued bulletins advising the public that it is safe to eat pork meat that is well cooked. Meat should be consumed in balance with other healthy food. For those who eat too much meat during a meal, especially during the holidays, it is time to learn that lesson.

In light of the complex problems brought about by the ASF and the trading of meat and meat products, I am assured by experts that the current policies, strategies, and measures that were set up against ASF are technically sound, also strong and strict enough.

Everybody is enjoined to follow existing quarantine rules and guidelines if we must ensure the survival of the multi-million swine industry of the nation.

In that same regard, President Rodrigo Duterte encouraged the whole of government and the public to cooperate in preventing the spread of this fatal hog disease.

Through the Executive Secretary, the President directed “all executive departments, bureaus, agencies, government-owned and controlled corporations, government financial institutions and other instrumentalities of the government to coordinate, as well as to adopt policies and institute measures to manage, contain and control the transmission of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the country.”

The Office of the President implored the public to extend their utmost cooperation to government authorities in order to prevent the spread of ASF.

In the Cordillera, most farmers undertake backyard hog-raising as an additional source of income or for family consumption. Hog-raising is done on confined pig pens, or are allowed to roam freely as is the case in some areas of Ifugao, Kalinga, and Benguet.

The local production is hardly enough to meet demand. For Baguio City alone, around 119,018 heads of hogs, mostly imported from the lowlands, were butchered at its slaughterhouse and sold to the public in 2018. In 2019, around 91, 272 heads were butchered at the end of September.

The public must consult local government veterinarians if they notice any untoward symptoms about their animals. Meanwhile, our quarantine enforcers are reportedly knowledgeable in implementing protocols and educating the public as well about their roles and responsibilities in preventing the spread of ASF

But it is not only us who must be on the lookout for violations of quarantine rules. The sources of meat products must do their part. They should realize that what they send us will always return back to them, through the rivers, and other means. Let us all help one another.


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