By Daniel Llanto i FilAm Star Correspondent
The Department of Agriculture (DA) admitted that it is incapable of controlling the entry of pork infected with African Swine Fever (ASF) and could only appeal to the good sense and patriotism of local food importers.
Agriculture Sec. Manny Piñol said it is likely that ASF-infected pork products would find their way into the local supermarkets since trade in these better-than-local meat products is a highly profitable enterprise.
DA appealed to traders to avoid importing pork products from “high-risk” countries, or those countries struck by ASF to protect the local hog industry.
There are some 13 countries with reported outbreaks of ASF. These include China and Germany, leading suppliers of high-quality pork products to the Philippines, as well as Russia, Hungary, Poland, Latvia, Ukraine, Belgium, Romania and Bulgaria.
“We cannot actually stop importers and we can only appeal to them. We are calling on their sense of patriotism as the hog industry involves millions of poor Filipino farming families,” Pinol said.
Piñol said the DA is also encouraging tourists, returning residents and OFWs to refrain from bringing in pork products as pasalubong, especially from ASF-affected countries.
“We are also calling on consumers to reduce their appetite for imported meat to cut demand for imports. If consumers would not want imported pork, then that would minimize the demand,” DA chief said.
Piñol pointed out that the entry of ASF in the Philippines may jeopardize the government’s plan of shipping local meat to new markets abroad, such as Singapore.
The government has intensified its bio-security measures to prevent the entry of ASF virus in the country. These include the installation of foot baths in all international land ports and seaports, as well as the mandatory inspection of luggage and shipments for pork products from ASF-affected countries.
The agriculture chief disclosed that the DA, together with other concerned agencies, inspected a cruise ship from China last January 9. The cruise ship, Piñol said, docked at Subic port.
The DA is confiscating pork products from ASF-affected countries as they could serve as carriers of the virus.
Although it poses no severe health risk to humans, the spread of the ASF virus alarms the agriculture and farming sectors as they could threaten pork supply in the food production sector, according to the World Organization for Animal Health.
The group recommends that hog raisers and slaughterhouses initiate the killing of infected livestock and immediate disposal of the carcasses as the disease may easily spread, sometimes through encounters with wild pigs.
The alarm on the outbreak was raised when a large foreign-invested farm in China reported that more than 4,000 of its pigs were infected and that more than 3,000 had died.
The outbreak has affected the supply chain in China’s meat industry, with operations in slaughterhouses and farms crippled by the measures imposed to push back the spread of the disease.
Piñol said the DA is “virtually” deputizing Filipinos as quarantine officers to report fellow passengers and tourists bringing in pork products from affected countries to quarantine officers.
The Meat Importers and Traders Association (MITA) through its president ,Jesus Cham, said its members would be asked to follow the recommendation of the DA. Cham said, however, that it is still up to MITA members whether to comply.
Cham noted that the World Organization for Animal Health, or OIE, allows the “unhampered” trade of pork products from areas uninfected by diseases, such as ASF.