By Chino Leyco
The Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed on Monday the first cases of African swine fever (ASF) in the Philippines, but was quick to assure the public that pork in the country remains safe for human consumption.
The ASF, a serious viral disease, was confirmed as the cause of swine deaths in Rizal, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said.
Dar said 14 out of the 20 blood samples of dead pigs from some backyard farms in Rizal tested positive for ASF virus based on laboratory tests conducted in the United Kingdom.
“Out of the 20 blood samples, 14 are positive with African swine fever,” Dar said, adding, “we continue to monitor, even beyond the 10-kilometer radius. So far, so good. No incidents.”
Despite the confirmed ASF cases, Dar assured that pork was safe to eat as long as the hogs passed through the proper process of slaughtering and preparation as approved by the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS).
“The public should not fear eating pork,” Dar was quoted as saying in a DA press statement, which was also echoed by Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque.
To prove that pork and processed pork meats were safe to humans, Dar and Duque, along with other agriculture and health officials, as well as hog stakeholders, and members of the private sector on Monday held a boodle fight of different pork dishes at the DA headquarters in Quezon City.
Duque also explained that local meat does not impose a threat to human health, reiterating that as long as meat was prepared and cooked properly, it is safe for human consumption.
“I think there is no need to worry considering the DA secretary has not cautioned us not to avoid or not to eat, or to avoid,” Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Dar said the Philippines is not facing an epidemic and urged Filipinos to continue eating pork, which is a critical market and accounts for 60 percent of meat consumption in the country.
The Philippines is the world’s 8th biggest pork producer by volume and its swine industry is estimated at P260 billion ($5 billion), according to the Agriculture department.
While the ASF cases were confirmed in Rizal, Dar said the province is now considered “cleared” of the disease following the culling of pigs last month that were within the one-kilometer radius of the affected areas.
In August, an unusual number of pig deaths in backyard farms in unidentified areas in Rizal sparked speculations that the animals have been afflicted with ASF, a highly contagious disease for pigs for which there is no cure and no vaccine.
Dar, however, maintained that importation of pork and pork-based products from more than a dozen countries, including Vietnam, Laos, Hong Kong, and China, was banned in the Philippines.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, meanwhile, said that the confirmed ASF case in the country is “a concern” that could affect the rate of increase in consumer prices.
“It’s a concern,” Dominguez told reporters when asked if the government’s economic team is looking at ASF as a possible risk to inflation, which already slowed down to 1.7 percent last month.
But President Duterte’s chief economic manager said “there are substitutes to pork such as poultry, beef, and fish.”
The Agriculture department already issued three administrative orders to avoid the spread of the ASF virus.
These include the guidelines in securing certificate of farm disease-free status in disease outbreak areas, revised guidelines on the local movement of swine, pork, pork products and pork by-products outside disease outbreak areas, and veterinary quarantine movement protocol during animal disease outbreaks and emergencies.
“For swine raisers, we wish to remind them to enhance their bio-security measures, promptly report any unusual animal mortalities in their respective farms, and avoid swill feeding,” the DA said.
“For consumers, we advise them to remain vigilant when buying meat and meat products, and always look for the ‘NMIS’ seal as a guarantee,” it added.
African swine fever causes high fever, loss of appetite, hemorrhages, and death among domestic and wild pigs that also threatens the Philippines’ more than P250 billion hog industry. (With reports from Argyll B. Geducos, Marjaleen Ramos, Reuters, and AFP)