By Beting Laygo Dolor
The government has not only failed to arrest the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the hog raising industry but processed products such as tocino, longganisa and hot dog sold in the country’s fresh markets and supermarkets have been found to be infected with the virus.
These processed pork products are breakfast staples in most Filipino homes but are also consumed for lunch and dinner.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura warned that charges would be filed before the Ombudsman against officials of the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Customs after learning that both imported and locally produced pork products sold in the country “have never been tested for ASF.”
The industry group showed to media a clinical laboratory report from the Bureau of Animal Industry showing that some breakfast staples have tested positive for ASF.
While no brands were mentioned, one of the bigger producers of processed pork products, Pampanga-based Mekeni Food Corporation, voluntarily pulled out their products from supermarket freezers over the weekend.
Mekeni said it had complied with all government regulations and continues to cooperate with the concerned agencies to assure the safety of their products.
On the other hand, the country’s biggest processed food manufacturer, Purefoods-Hormel Co., late last week said that all its pork-based products had been tested for the virus and found to be safe.
The company, under the San Miguel Foods umbrella, said their plants and facilities have passed “all stringent requirements.”
Because pork is such a regular part of the Filipino diet, the hog industry has estimated losses due to ASF fears at PHP1 billion (about US$20 million) a month.
The figure is seen to rise substantially with the approach of the Christmas and New Year holidays, when ham sales and consumption usually hit their peak.
The Health department reiterated last week that pork products infected with ASF were still safe for human consumption as long as they were cooked properly.
However, humans who consume ASF-tainted products can become carriers of the virus, which can then spread to pigs.
Health Sec. Francisco Duque III said: “We want to dispel the fears of consumers by reiterating that, as long as pork and pork products are bought from reliable sources and are cooked thoroughly, pork meat and products are safe to eat.”
The Agriculture department earlier said it was studying the possibility that ASF entered the Philippines via a tourist or overseas Filipino worker who had come from countries where ASF was widespread.
The spread of the virus has been detected in such parts of the country as Quezon City, Bulacan, Rizal and Pangasinan.
Provinces such as Cebu and Batangas have also banned the entry of live hogs as well as processed pork products, even after the Department of Interior and Local Government said the latter should be excluded from any ban.
Since ASF was first detected in July, some 30,000 pigs have been culled. But what compounds the government’s problem in controlling the spread of the virus is the fact that millions of hogs are raised in provincial backyards.
Owners of hogs suspected of carrying ASF may simply slaughter them and turn them to tocino, tapa, or longganisa.
Among the Philippines’ neighboring countries that have been affected by ASF are China, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong and North Korea.
Further away are such countries as Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Ukraine, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The World Organization for Animal Health considers ASF as a severe and highly contagious viral disease.
Hogs and boars infected with ASF are almost always killed by the virus within two to five days of exposure.
The Philippines is the world’s 10th largest consumer of pork and pork products and is the 7th largest importer. The country’s total hog population is about 13 million.