By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The country’s poultry industry will continue to stagger in the next few months but that’s not just because of the country’s first avian flu outbreak. An agricultural lobby group is blaming this possibility to none other than Agriculture Chief Emmanuel Piñol.
Exactly a week after Piñol announced the avian flu outbreak in Pampanga, which is now under state of calamity, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) came forward to say how the government should have been more discreet in dealing with the matter as this could further cause damage to the entire poultry industry and its stakeholders.
Right now, stakeholders and several government officials have been coming up with their own different statements with one goal, which is to calm the public about a possible chicken-to-human transmission of bird flu.
In a press briefing regarding the outbreak this week, Trade Undersecretary Teodoro Pascua decided to eat chicken for lunch so he could show that poultry products being sold in the market are still safe for public consumption.
Two of the country’s fast food giants, Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) and McDonald’s Philippines have also released their own separate statements since then, basically assuring the public that their products are safe to eat.
“As things are now unfolding, we can only lament the impact of the over reaction, if not over eagerness, of the DA that is now wreaking havoc on the local agriculture and poultry industry. The DA could have silently and more discreetly impose stringent bio-security measures, biosafety and quarantine protocols, hand and hand with all the stakeholders,” SINAG said in a statement.
To recall, the avian flu outbreak began in one farm in San Luis, Pampanga and later on spread to six farms. Since April, 37,000 fowls have died due to the virus.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is now targeting to cull as many as 600,000 birds until Saturday to prevent the outbreak from reaching other areas.
SINAG is still skeptical. According to the group, “it is not an outbreak in magnitude, value, and volume as only two farms in one municipality is suspected to have been infected (by the virus).”
“The DA could have properly defined it, without noise and fanfare, as an isolated case. All over the world, countries with worse, recurring, and longer cases of avian influenza have handled it with care and deliberate procedures without compromising food safety, farm bio-security and more importantly, public health,” SINAG said.
“If the intention is to wantonly import as there is the common chorus of impending shortage from the DA, may we remind the DA that all our major source of chicken imports have worse and longer cases of avian flu that is transmittable to humans,” it added.
The group then reiterated its call to the DA to ban the import of poultry products from these countries, instead of banning the movement of poultry products from Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao.
“It is always the local agriculture industry that has to bear the brunt and suffer while there is leniency to agriculture imports from countries with recurring health pandemics,” it further said.
As of now, samples of infected birds have been sent by Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, which is a reference laboratory certified by the World Organization for Animal Health, an intergovernmental organization responsible for improving animal health worldwide.
In 2004, a potential outbreak was also reported in the Philippines but confirmatory tests from Australia eventually revealed it negative.
Elias Jose Inciong, president of the United Broiler Raisers Association (UBRA), said in an earlier text exchange that we should wait for the results of these tests.
“We need to wait for the confirmatory tests from the Regional Testing Center in Australia. As for the impact, we don’t know yet. It depends on how matters will be explained to consumers. We can only advise the public to cook chicken very well. For farms, to enhance biosecurity measures,” he further said.
On Thursday, the DA had sought the help of Armed Forces of the Philippines in the depopulation of farms in Pampanga.
Piñol also asked the assistance of the Philippine National Police in securing and strengthening quarantine stations.