Control swine fever spread, Duterte orders
President Duterte has ordered government agencies to carry out measures to contain the spread of African swine fever in the country and to extend aid to hog raisers who have lost their livestock to the disease.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Thursday night that Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea had directed all executive departments, bureaus, agencies, government-owned and -controlled corporations, state financial institutions, and other offices to take steps to control the African swine fever epidemic.
Medialdea, he said, also directed all concerned offices to “provide assistance, alternative livelihood and skills training” to farmers and backyard raisers whose pigs have been culled to stop the spread of the African swine fever virus.
“[T]he Office of the President implores the public to extend their utmost cooperation to government authorities in order to prevent the spread of [African swine fever],” Panelo said.
Earlier, an industry source told the Inquirer that the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) had recommended the recall of processed pork products of Mekeni Food Corp. after a batch of its hot dog, “longganisa” (pork sausage) and “tocino” (cured pork) was found positive for the African swine fever virus.
The source, who requested anonymity, said the NMIS, a specialized regulatory agency in the Department of Agriculture (DA), made the suggestion as a growing number of consumers decided to refrain from buying pork and processed-pork products due to the spread of the disease.
“Recall products on what basis?” Mekeni Food Corp. president Prudencio Garcia asked in a phone interview with the Inquirer.
The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) conducted a clinical laboratory test on the Mekeni products on Oct. 15 and found these to contain “ASF viral DNA.”
Nimfa Raguindin, a 69-year-old accountant from Novaliches in Quezon City, said she would not buy and consume pork and pork-based products for now.
College student Ranessa Laiz said her family had decided to take a break from eating pork “just to be sure,” even though they know that ASF does not pose health risks to humans.
Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo has assured the public that the consumption of pork and processed pork products does not pose any threat to human health. (See story on this page.)
Despite the ASF scare, the Department of Agriculture said it would continue to support the shipment to and sale in the Visayas and Mindanao of processed pork products from Luzon, where several provinces and cities are hit by swine fever outbreak.
The processed pork products, which the BAI tested, were seized at the City of Calapan port in Oriental Mindoro province on Oct. 6, according to Rex Agarrado, spokesperson for the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (Pampi).
Agarrado attended a closed-door meeting with officials of the BAI, NMIS and the DA on Thursday.
The products came from Central Luzon, a region with an ASF outbreak, he said.
Some products were said to have been homemade and were stored in styrofoam containers while some were reported to have been manufactured by Pampanga-based Mekeni Food Corp., according to Agarrado.
The Pampi spokesperson quoted BAI officials as saying that the comingling of the samples made it difficult for the bureau to identify which products were tainted with the ASF virus.
The BAI may do a retest of the samples but the rest of the items had been disposed of, said Agarrado.
“How do we assure the integrity of the sample taken? The items were seized [on] Oct. 6 and were tested [on] Oct. 16. That’s almost 10 days,” said Mekeni president Garcia.
He said the possibility of contamination was huge, adding that the corporation was not even informed whether the items were put in cold storage.
“As a food manufacturer, we ensure our full compliance with government regulations. We are willing to share our programs supporting this claim. The BAI should give us an official report first,” Garcia said.
According to its website, the NMIS is the country’s sole national controlling and competent authority on all matters pertaining to meat inspection and hygiene both for locally produced and imported meat.
Mekeni was the first recipient of ISO 22000 (food safety management system) for certified meat plant in Asia and the Philippines.
Mekeni Food Corp. was formed in 1986 by public school teachers Felix Garcia and Medicia Santos, husband and wife, who are based in Balubad, Porac, Pampanga. Its products include bacon, ham, corned beef and cured “tapa.”
The company also sells its products in United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia, New Zealand and other countries.
Pampi questioned the BAI for inspecting processed meat products when it was not part of the bureau’s mandate.
Under the Food Safety Act of 2013, the agency’s jurisdiction and control cover only animals, feeds and veterinary products.
It is the Food and Drug Administration that handles processed meat products. Raw meat products are under the mandate of the NMIS.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, a group that also represents livestock producers, questioned the delayed release of confirmatory tests on processed products.
The group decried the agriculture department’s recommendation to allow the shipment to and sale of meat products from Luzon in ASF-free areas in the Visayas and Mindanao.
African swine fever is a fatal disease and has infected pigs in Cavite, Quezon City, Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan. —WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA AND INQUIRER RESEARCH
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