Editorial: The other disease

PRIOR to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic in 2020, there is another disease outbreak happening in our country. Instead of humans, this disease is affecting an important food source for many -- pork.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious hemorrhagic viral disease of domestic and wild pigs caused by "a large DNA virus of the Asfarviridae family." Currently, there is no approved vaccine for the ASF.

Records from the OIE also show that the Philippines reported its first ASF outbreak in Rizal and Bulacan. Some 7,416 swine were killed and disposed of to prevent the further spread of the disease. According to the documents retrieved from OIE, the outbreak began in July 2019. It was reported to the OIE on September 9, 2019. The OIE report states that the source of the infection is suspected "swill feeding, then spread through illegal movement of already sick pigs that were being sold at a lower price."

Since its first outbreak in the country, outbreaks of ASF were reported in Luzon and Mindanao. This has led to the culling of thousands of pigs. Based on the Department of Agriculture's (DA) report to the OIE, over 300,000 swine have been culled in Luzon as of August 2020. None of the 12 reports available with OIE provided data on the ASF situation in Mindanao.

In Davao Region, the first ASF case was reported in Don Marcelino, Davao Occidental in January 2020 following the death of around 1,000 pigs in the municipality. This was the first case for Mindanao. Soon after, ASF cases were confirmed in Davao City and then other parts of Davao Region. The latest ASF outbreak in the region was in Mati City this year.

As part of its response to the disease, DA has implemented several biosecurity measures like the 1-7-10 protocol. The agency has also provided financial assistance to farmers in a bid to repopulate the swine farms.

Hog Farmers Association of Davao Inc. (Hogfadi) president Eduardo So criticized the DA for failing to control the spread of the ASF as the disease effects are now being felt by many.

It can be observed that the prices of pork have increased as supplies remain low but demand is high. So told SunStar Davao that many backyard hog raisers are not able to meet the demands of the market after having to cull their pigs. He said the pork supply on the island is already down by around 30 to 40-percent because of the ASF outbreak.

Together with the price increase of other raw materials, this led to an increase in the price of processed products and even food items in local carinderias, restaurants, and some fast-food chains.

We know that the government is already making moves to mitigate the impacts of ASF. For example, DA has allotted P400 million for the repopulation of hogs in areas affected by ASF. It is also investing P80 million for the development and mass production of test kits that can detect the ASF virus. The test kits are being developed by the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in partnership with the DA's Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI). DA is also coordinating with Vietnam, which is developing a vaccine against ASF. DA is hoping to acquire the vaccine for clinical and field tests in the Philippines.

The DA might also want to consider the suggestion of Hogfadi to do selective culling of pigs instead of disposing of hundreds of pigs. So said this would entail only culling hogs that are positive with the ASF virus while those that yield a negative result will be allowed to be sold in the market.

The price increase in pork, a common protein in many dishes, has caused another dent in the meager earnings of many workers and households. The government and DA will now have to work double-time to ensure that the price of pork stabilizes and at the same time address the supply issue of pork in the country.


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