DA: African swine fever in PH; pork safe
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday confirmed the presence of African swine fever in the Philippines, but assured the public there was no epidemic and vouched for the safety of pork products in the country.
At a press conference at the DA, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said “we received late last week the result of what we call the polymerase chain reaction test. We submitted actually 20 [blood] samples to the United Kingdom laboratory, and the result that we received is that out of the 20 samples, 14 are positive.”
Dar was referring to the UK-based Pirbright Institute, which according to www.wrlfmd.org is designated as the World Reference Laboratory for Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and as a reference laboratory for FMD by the World Organization for Animal Health.
A second analysis called the viral isolation test is pending at the said laboratory. That test will determine how virulent the strain is in the country.
“If the strain here in the Philippines is highly virulent or not, it will also spell what are the measures we need to put in place,” Dar said at a later press briefing in Malacañang.
There is no antidote or vaccine against African swine fever and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of affected livestock.
The virus causes hemorrhagic fever in pigs that almost always ends in death, but it is not harmful to humans.
Boodle fight with Duque
Dar sought to assure the public that “for local pork, we are telling everyone that it is safe. Let us patronize our products.”
“We have never been in an epidemic, just to highlight that,” he said. “We are responding to the increased number of deaths of pigs.”
To prove that locally sold pork was safe to eat, Dar and Health Secretary Francisco Duque III took part in a “boodle fight” — military lingo for soldiers and officers sharing a meal and eating with their bare hands — with the rice and pork viands served on banana leaves.
Dar said that a hog marked for slaughter is first assessed by a veterinarian, who will issue a medical certificate if the animal is found free of the disease. The meat, once it has passed the government’s food safety measures, is then given a seal of approval by the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS).
“If it has the NMIS seal, it means the pig was not sick when it was slaughtered, so the meat is safe,” the agriculture chief said.
Cases across Asia
The Philippines is the world’s 8th biggest pork producer by volume, with pork accounting for 60 percent of meat consumption in the country. The country’s swine industry is estimated at P260 billion ($5 billion), according to DA data.
African swine fever has ravaged pig herds in Asia, with hard-hit China and Vietnam culling millions of pigs. China is home to half the world’s pig population. In Vietnam alone, the virus has caused the deaths of more than 4 million pigs.
The disease has also been reported in Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos and North Korea.
Authorities suspected that the swine fever cases in the Philippines stemmed from pigs being fed swill, leftover food scraps from hotels and restaurants.
“We have to emphasize, however, that [hog raisers] should not be using swill feeding anymore. It is banned. We will request our partner local government units to monitor this,” Dar said.
Dar also acknowledged the threat posed by the smuggling of food products, adding that “if there is anyone from the Department of Agriculture [involved], tell us, and we will deal with them in the strongest terms.”
“It would be hard to contain the disease without everyone’s participation. Consumers need to avoid buying processed pork products from ASF (African swine fever)-affected countries. Swine farmers need to follow proper procedures before and after slaughter.”
Steps taken in provinces
More than 7,400 pigs were culled from affected farms in Antipolo City and Rodriguez town, Rizal province, and in Guiguinto town in Bulacan province, according to Dar, who also said farmers were given P3,000 each as financial assistance to recover from their livestock’s depopulation.
Dar also said other areas in Luzon were being monitored, but declined to mention these areas to “allow government to do its work first.”
Rizal Gov. Rebecca Ynares has issued an order directing local officials to monitor the transport of pork products in and out of the province.
In Legazpi City, checkpoints would be set up as a contingency measure on the entry of livestock and meat products.
Director Salvador Diputado of the DA’s Central Visayas office said local governments in the region is observing security protocols to ensure that Central Visayas would not be affected by the disease.
In Mindanao, Esteban Co Jr. of the South Cotabato Swine Producers Association has asked the government to prohibit backyard growers from feeding their pigs swill.
The DA’s Northern Mindanao office said on Monday it had activated its multisectoral task force to deal with the possible spread of the disease.
Effect on demand
Rosendo So, chair of the Samahang Industriya ng Magsasaka, said he did not see the demand for pork and pork products waning, nor their prices dropping.
“If you look at other countries affected by ASF, their prices are actually going up. What we should be worried about is that there might be less supply of pork,” So said.
Rep. Argel Cabatbat of Magsasaka said in a statement: “We advise our consumers to only buy meat that [has] been inspected and certified by the National Meat Inspection Service.”
At the Palace, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said “there is no need to worry considering that the DA secretary has not cautioned us not to avoid or not to eat, or to avoid. There’s no directive yet.” —REPORTS FROM ANNELLE TAYAO-JUEGO, JULIE M. AURELIO, JIGGER J. JERUSALEM, BONG S. SARMIENTO, NESTLE SEMILLA, DALE ISRAEL, NESTOR P. BURGOS JR., MAR S. ARGUELLES, DJ YAP, MARICAR CINCO, CARMELA REYES-ESTROPE, AFP AND AP
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