By Madelaine Miraflor
The Department of Agriculture (DA) has started culling pigs in areas allegedly hit by African Swine Fever (ASF), but the agency won’t confirm or deny the presence of the deadly swine disease in these areas until confirmatory results are released.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar won’t also confirm the areas affected and how many pigs have so far died and were depopulated.
This is to prevent a panic among the public and the stakeholders of the P260-billion hog industry, he said.
“Last Friday, we received an incident report from BAI [Bureau of Animal Industry] on an increased mortality of pigs raised by farmers in their backyards. Immediately, we revived and strengthened the Crisis Management Team (CMT) to oversee the planning and implementation of appropriate measures to manage, contain and control the suspected animal disease or diseases,” Dar said.
“We directed BAI to conduct further confirmatory laboratory tests, including sending blood samples to foreign laboratories to ascertain the cause of animal’s death,” he added, noting that the results should be available in two weeks. The latest would be three months.
Dar’s statement came after it was reported that Taiwan has just imposed stricter ASF measure on the passengers coming from the Philippines amid an alleged unreported case of the deadly pork disease in Bulacan and Rizal province.
Over the weekend, Taiwan News reported that the East Asian nation will begin checking all carry-on bags from the Philippines starting Monday as a precautionary measure against ASF.
The order came from Taiwan’s Central Emergency Operation Center (CEOC), the government agency tasked to monitor emergency situations, who said “ASF cases have been detected in Bulacan and Rizal Province of the Philippines, even though the authorities have not reported the cases to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).”
Dar said the DA will initiate a formal communication with Taiwanese authorities to inform them that the alleged ASF cases have not been confirmed yet.
“We will communicate with them and tell them that there aren’t confirmatory results yet,” Dar said.
In the meantime, and although he didn’t confirm the location where the pigs have died and are being culled, he said the areas affected are now under quarantine. All hogs within the 1-km quarantine zone must be culled based on protocols.
The mortality rate of the pigs in these areas are said to be around 20 percent, way higher than the normal rate of only 3 to 5 percent.
“We ordered the CMT to work with key industry players and LGU [local government units] to manage the incident and carry our ground-level operations. We assure the animal industry stakeholders and the general public that we are on top of the situation and we are doing everything possible,” Dar said.
“The CMT will issue regular bulletins from here on,” he added.
Slow but sure
BAI Director Ronnie Domingo said the DA don’t want to release so many details on the incident to avoid misleading the public as well as for the government to avoid making the wrong decisions.
He said that there are instances in other countries where a particular disease was blamed for the death of many animals and some measures were implemented to prevent it, but it turned out that another had caused such deaths, which would have required different set of actions.
For his part, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Rosendo So said he can see that the DA, now under a new Secretary, had already successfully strengthened its ASF protocols.
When former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol was still with the agency, SINAG was the most vocal industry lobby group when it comes to criticizing the government’s inefficient quarantine measures versus the disease.
Nevertheless, So still called for the implementation of the highest standard and strictest quarantine at all ports of entry, even on the proper waste disposal at airports and seaports, as well as demanded for the highest level of biosecurity measures at all farms.
DA has been imposing stricter quarantine protocols against ASF since last year. Last month, DA closed its doors on imported pork products coming from Germany – one of the Philippines’ top suppliers of affordable raw pork material – as part of this measure.
This made the Western European nation the first country that won’t be allowed to import pork to the Philippines even if remains free from the deadly hog disease but is considered a “high-risk” area because it is contiguous with Poland, one of the 19 countries with reported ASF outbreak.
Aside from Poland, the country also closed its doors to pork products coming from other ASF-hit countries namely China, Hong Kong, Laos, Vietnam, Zambia, South Africa, Belgium, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Mongolia, Moldova, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.
Four days ago, Myanmar reported its first case of ASF, making it the seventh country in Asia to have the virus.