By Madelaine B. Miraflor
As the deadly pork disease African Swine Fever (ASF) spreads uncontrollably to other countries, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is set to add more countries banned from exporting pork to the Philippines.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the DA will submit a proposal to President Rodrigo Duterte to place temporary suspension on pork importation from even the countries that are not yet hit by ASF but are considered “high risk” areas.
High risk areas are those contiguous to countries that were already hit by ASF. This means that if Vietnam and Cambodia were already hit by ASF, the Philippines may also soon close its doors to pork products coming from Myanmar, Malaysia, India, and Laos.
ASF is one of the most serious transboundary animal diseases because of its high lethality for pigs, its crippling socio-economic consequences, and its propensity for rapid and unanticipated international spread, according to United Nation’s (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Some of the nearby countries that were already hit by ASF include China, Hong Kong, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia and North Korea. The Philippines already banned the entry of pork and other meat products coming from these countries.
A temporary ban was also placed since last year on the importation of domestic and wild pigs and their products coming from Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Moldova, South Africa, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia, Romania, and Zambia.
“The problem is that the disease is irreversible,” Piñol said.
A latest FAO report suggested that the DA may be doing the right thing, saying that animal disease containment in its broadest sense should be prioritized within the highest levels of governments.
The DA starts implementing security measures against ASF since early last year when it hit China.
FAO also suggested that outbreak control strategies must also be in place and according to Piñol, the DA has already “established regional contingency measure”, which would be similar to the measures that were instituted to during the Avian Flu outbreak in the country in 2017.
The DA has a pending request to Duterte and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to procure X-ray machines that would level up the biosecurity measures over the luggages of incoming passengers in the country’s major airports.
“I will ask for an exemption from the President on the procurement process because we need to improve our security,” Piñol said.
Piñol said that since this is an urgent matter, the employees of DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) were also advised to fast-track the deployment of resources — such as the meat-sniffing dogs — even if it means going past the rules of Commission on Audit (COA).
“I ordered BAI to deploy the first batch of dogs. I asked them [this week] why they weren’t able to deploy, they said they are still asking COA. I told them, ‘Look, the moment ASF hits us, we can’t tell the public that it’s because we waited for COA. It is an urgent matter’,” said Pinol.
The DA chief then said that if the COA will raise flags on the emergency procurements his agency did because of ASF-related measures, he will take full responsibility.
“If the COA will question me or the Department, I will take full responsibility. In fact, I’m even willing to sign a document that will absolve all my employees and government officials from any responsibility for the emergency purchases to be done for ASF measures,” he further said.
The DA has strongly discouraged the importation of pork products even from countries free from ASF. The Philippine government even wanted all processed meat products from countries hit by deadly pork disease ASF virus recalled and seized.
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.
Them letting go of their MAV permits means the country will forego a supply of about 2 million kilos of pork.
No cases of ASF had been detected in the Philippines so far. But all the entry points in the Philippine already tightened security versus the potential entry of the deadly pork disease.
The country’s local hog industry is currently valued at P240 billion, raising 28 million heads every year. Piñol said this is something that the Philippines must protect otherwise it could affect the country’s food supply.