Porkless Christmas?
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - September 18, 2019 - 12:00am

Now that I have your attention, perhaps now you would consider learning a little more about ASF or African Swine Fever and why all of us pork loving Filipinos could end up fighting over pork chops and lechon in the future.

While there has been enough headline material being printed and broadcast about ASF, much of it has been focused on dead pigs, floating pigs, and crying pig farmers. But the general public has simply picked up bits and pieces and not really considering what the repercussions could be on the long term. Worst case scenario is if the virus goes uncontrolled on the ground along with carriers from abroad, yes we could end up with a porkless Christmas, we could end up kissing our beloved lechon and chicharon bulaklak goodbye, but worst of the worst is that we could see the death of a P416-billion industry that is not just about pigs but also animal feeds industry, agri-veterinary sector, logistics and transport, markets and food outlets and much more.

Just so you know, the African Swine Fever is transmitted by a “super” virus that can survive in cured ham or chicharon that’s cooked in oil for as long as four months, and can live indefinitely in pork meat, offal or entrails in frozen state. ASF is not contagious to humans and that is why I just had a serving of chicharon bulaklak before writing this column. Authorities around the world have determined or pinpointed hot zones or infected areas and have declared them as a “No Buy Zone.” According to insider sources, the recent outbreaks in the Philippines have been known as early as May but certain people were either living in denial or avoiding having to deal with a confirmed outbreak. As a result things deteriorated rapidly until full outbreaks occurred and were confirmed recently. The current administration a.k.a. Department of Agriculture under Secretary William Dar is doing what must be done and needs to be done, meaning declaring quarantine areas, conducting sampling and testing of infected and non-infected pig populations, farms and backyard farms.

But while all of this is being done, they are being pulled down by certain know it all’s in the animal industry, raisers who refuse to report outbreaks hoping to cull and sell remaining stocks instead of having their herds buried, as well as vested interest groups who are trying to protect their own businesses such as meat importers. Knowing the process and time element involved in doing laboratory works to determine ASF, it is almost petty and childish that some people would accuse the DA of being too slow or taking forever to declare an outbreak. Just imagine how people feel when they are told they have cancer only to learn it was a false positive. The premature declaration of ASF would be just as reckless and destructive to the hog industry.

The floating pigs scenario goes to show and confirms that at the end of the day, some people are more interested in salvaging their investments over the criminal act of sending dead and contaminated pigs down the river that could lead to even more outbreaks that could kill half of the pig population in the country just like it did in China! Lots of dead pigs floated down rivers and infected other farms. Given the crisis situation, it might be well worth for the DA to offer market value for all the hogs that have to be culled, burned or buried in order to motivate farmers to report the problem. I think that is still cheaper than absorbing an industry wipeout and having to start all over again.

In the current tug of war and finger pointing as to who brought ASF into the country, it seems that as well meaning and responsible as the meat importers may be, there is proof reportedly from the batch of imported meat intercepted in Cebu that some suppliers from abroad had “inserted” or mixed in meat products that had labels showing they were from “No Buy Zone” or countries infected with ASF. If the former secretary Manny Piñol and the airport customs were all upset about an OFW bringing in a few cans of Maling, why did they not show as much concern over the reported 600 percent increase in the importation of frozen meat that led to an oversupply of pork in the market?

With Piñol out of the picture, some importers still want to carry on with business as usual claiming that since we already have ASF in the country, foreign sources would be “safer” or at least ASF free. Sorry but the science points out that ASF came from abroad so that argument is like saying a robber has already broken into the house so let’s just keep the door open. I will respect the right of importers to do business but they along with hog raisers; vendors etc. should now undergo stricter BIO security programs and trainings. The DSA and BOC in cooperation with international organizations and regulators should enforce stricter measures similar to those implemented by Australia for all agricultural products that enter the Philippines. Frontline Customs personnel should be given the benefit of undergoing trainings and gain further knowledge on the serious impact of ASF and similar threats so they won’t easily be swayed by bribes or corrupt offers to look the other way or go easy.

Finally, it’s about time we go tough on people who violate quarantine laws and restrictions by making it ridiculously expensive and unprofitable to be caught for smuggling or violating international quarantine guidelines. Our culture of bringing in agricultural animals and products has already brought in Parvovirus and other diseases. Let’s all cooperate for the good of the country and agriculture. If not then we’ll have to settle for lechon manok at Christmas!

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Email: utalk2ctalk@gmail.com

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