By Madelaine Miraflor and Ariel Fernandez
Tourists and returning residents coming from countries that are affected by the deadly pork disease African Swine Fever (ASF) will soon be subjected to stricter airport scrutiny, with their baggage required to undergo extra cargo screening.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is now in the process of purchasing 20 units of X-ray machines, which will be established in all international airports of the country to check agricultural products, especially meat, being brought in by passengers.
This was after President Rodrigo Duterte approved the agency’s request to tap its Quick Response Fund (QRF) for such emergency procurement, which would cost about P130 million.
QRF are built-in budgetary allocations that represent pre-disaster or standby funds for agencies in order to immediately assist areas stricken by catastrophes and crises.
Unlike the calamity fund, the QRF does not require the recommendation of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to trigger the use and release of funds. When the QRF gets depleted, the agency may request for replenishment with a request to the Department of Budget and Management and to be approved by the Office of the President.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said there is now a need for the country to step up and make its quarantine protocol versus ASF world-class. To be specific, he wants the country to implement measures comparable to what’s being implemented in bigger countries like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United States.
All incoming passengers from overseas are now being reminded not to bring home frozen meat and their products.
According to Renaldo Quilang, chief of the National Veterinary Quarantine Service Division (NVQSD) of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), ASF is not a danger to human health but it is a highly contagious disease for domestic and wild pigs.
Quilang said there is no vaccine against ASF and it is extremely devastating for the farming economy.
He said that fresh and frozen pork, cooked and uncooked processed products, and by-products from ASF-infected countries like China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, North Korea, Latvia, Romania, Hungary, Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Moldova, South Africa and Zambia are strictly prohibited to enter the country.
“We appeal to our OFWs [Overseas Filipino Workers] to refrain from bringing into the country all canned goods particularly the Maling Meat Loaf as we are strictly monitoring all airport and port terminals in the country to ensure that all canned goods are barred from entering the country to avoid the contamination of the local swine industry,” Quiland said.
Last June 4, some balikbayan boxes containing canned goods of a newly arrived OFW from Hong Kong were confiscated by BAI at the Clark International Airport.
The DA highly discourages the importation of pork products even from countries free from ASF. The government ordered the recall and seizure of all processed meat products from countries hit by ASF.
A couple of local importers have also so far returned their Minimum Access Volume (MAV) allocation for pork, which means they are no longer interested to purchase pork from other countries even with a corresponding tariff. Letting go of their MAV permits means the country will forego a supply of about 2 million kilos of pork.