African swine fever found in 5 more Cebu towns, cities

File photo
File photo

AFTER Carcar City, five more towns and cities in the province of Cebu have been found to have cases of the deadly and highly contagious African swine fever (ASF), the Bureau of Animal Industry said Monday, March 20, 2023.

Reacting to the announcement, the Cebu Provincial Government said it would proceed with formulating its own protocol to combat the disease in pigs, which Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia had vowed to do last week after she stepped in, following her disagreement with the national government over its handling of the ASF threat in Cebu.

In Lapu-Lapu City, officials said they had just received over the weekend live hogs from two of the newly announced ASF-positive areas, which hogs they can no longer account for, while in Cebu City, officials said their ASF-positive hogs came from Carcar City.

The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday confirmed that ASF had been detected in Cebu City, as well as Sibonga town in the south, and Liloan and Tuburan towns and Bogo City in Cebu’s north.

In a statement, the BAI said the positive cases were discovered from the blood samples collected by these local government units (LGUs) from pigs in backyard farms.

The samples were then submitted to the Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory (RADDL) in Central Visayas for analysis using Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR).

The BAI called RT-PCR the “gold standard for testing and confirming the ASF virus.”

Currently, the BAI continues to gather more data and reports in other areas with suspected ASF cases in coordination with the Department of Agriculture in Central Visayas (DA 7).

The agency is also closely coordinating with veterinary offices and agriculture offices of the LGUs and DA 7 in the implementation of ASF prevention and control strategies.

“All the protocols which are being implemented by the BAI are evidence based actions and proven to be the best option for us as of date while there is still no approved vaccine,” BAI said in the statement, referring in part to the BAI’s policy of culling swine within a 500-meter radius of infected areas.

Suspend cull

Last week, Governor Garcia ordered a stop to the culling of pigs within 500 meters of the infected site in Carcar City, as she still had questions on whether the Carcar pigs that earlier tested positive really had ASF. Carcar officials had said the DA’s insistence on the cull led them to kill an initial 141 hogs.

She also questioned the testing method used in confirming the presence of ASF in pigs in a Carcar slaughterhouse last March 1, saying that testing for ASF requires not just an RT-PCR test but also a serological test called Elisa, further to be confirmed by an alternative serological test.

The BAI said the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in fact, recommend culling of affected and exposed swine within a one-kilometer radius but that the Philippine government had reduced the depopulation area to just 500 meters after taking into consideration the devastating effects depopulation would have on the livelihood of backyard farmers and the hog industry.

The BAI, through the National ASF Prevention and Control Program, has been implementing this protocol.

“The depopulation policy is recognized worldwide as the most logical and tested means to contain the virus in the affected area. This includes strict biosecurity measures and the execution of control strategies such as depopulation and surveillance which are highly dependent on the cooperation of the LGUs and stakeholders,” the BAI said.

Garcia last week ordered a stop to any pig cull in Cebu Province without the Capitol’s approval, announcing that Cebu Province would come up with its own policies to address the ASF situation as it did during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Monday, Donato Villa, legal officer of the province, said the BAI did not consult with the Provincial Government on its protocols.

“The Province of Cebu will proceed with its plan to formulate its own protocol considering that the protocol the BAI will be implementing is unrealistic and has not gone through consultation with the LGUs and the Province of Cebu in compliance with Section 2(c), Section 25(b), Section 27 of the Local Government Code (LGC),” Villa said.

“They should be reminded that they are obliged to consult and involve the LGUs and the Province of Cebu in the planning and implementation of any program or policy in accordance with the afore-quoted provisions of the Local Government Code,” he added.

Villa said that under Section 465 of the LGC, the governor has the power to file a case against national agency officials who may have committed an offense in connection with their functions and obligations.

Cebu City

In Cebu City, where ASF has been found, an official announced that the blood samples that tested positive for ASF were taken from pigs that were transported from Carcar City to Cebu City when border controls were not yet in place.

Dr. Jesssica Maribojoc, head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine and Fisheries, said Monday that the virus had been detected in blood samples taken from eight of 21 Carcar pigs kept in a backyard farm in an urban barangay in Cebu City.

As a result, the authorities killed the pigs and cordoned the area to stop the disease from spreading.

Other pigs in the affected barangay and its surrounding areas are still being monitored for two weeks, and if they do not get sick or die, they can be slaughtered while there is still no infection.

Maribojoc said pigs with ASF are not harmful to humans, but they should not be eaten or sold.

She claimed that the virus will be killed if the meat is cooked for more than 30 minutes at a temperature of at least 70 degrees Celsius.

Hogs unaccounted for

In Lapu-Lapu City, city veterinarian Dr. Janice Togonon said at least 32 live hogs from Bogo City and Liloan, where ASF has been detected, arrived at the slaughterhouse in Lapu-Lapu City last Saturday, March 18.

Togonon told SunStar Cebu Monday that 220 live hogs arrived at the city’s slaughterhouse in Barangay Pusok on Saturday, 25 of which came from Bogo City and seven from Liloan.

The two LGUs are among the suppliers of pork meat in Lapu-Lapu City, especially in the markets, along with Compostela, Consolacion, Danao City, Tabogon, Tuburan (where ASF has also been found), and Tabuelan.

It is, however, unclear whether those live hogs were already slaughtered and sold in the markets.

Togonon said she already forwarded to City Administrator Danilo Almendras the BAI statement on the detection of ASF for Lapu-Lapu Mayor Junard Chan to decide on the measures the city government will take amid the development.

She, however, stressed that they have been strictly monitoring the legal documents or the veterinary health certificate to ensure that no meat from ASF-detected areas will be sold.

Togonon said they are also strictly monitoring the points of entry in the city such as ports after Chan banned on March 8 the entry of live hogs and other pork-related products from Carcar City and Negros Island for 30 days.

Based on Executive Order 2023-017, the temporary ban includes live hogs, sows, piglets, boar semen, swine genetic materials, pork and raw piglets, as well as pork-related products (fresh/frozen pork products and uncooked processed pork products) for 30 days from date of issuance unless there is still a declaration from the Department of Agriculture (DA) or from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) ADDRL or from the Province of Cebu of the continued incursion of the ASF, in which case the ban shall continue.

The ban does not apply to cooked and canned processed pork products.

Lapu-Lapu City Public Administrator Maria Elena Caballes said all their pork meat came from farms that are known for their strict biosecurity measures.

“Therefore, the meat coming from them is safe). In the market, strict lang pod and consistency in the inspection of legal documents or meat inspection certificates,” said Caballes, adding that shipping permits are required when live hogs or pork-related products come from outside Cebu to ensure that the meat is safe.

Togonon emphasized that ASF is not a threat to human but that humans can be carriers of the disease that can be transmitted to live hogs through the “lamaw” (swill) that is fed to them. (KAL, TPT)

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