African Swine Fever outbreak confirmed

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By Vincent Mariel P. Galang, Reporter

THE DEPARTMENT of Agriculture (DA) on Monday confirmed the first outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the Philippines, adding that quarantine measures have been tightened to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We received late last week the result of the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR test). We submitted 20 samples… and the result that we received is that 14 samples are positive with African Swine Fever,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said in a press conference on Monday, adding that more tests are needed to determine virulence of the strain.

Affected areas are in Guiguinto, Bulacan as well as in Rodriguez and Antipolo in Rizal where 7,416 hogs have so far been culled since Aug. 18 as a preventive measure prior to yesterday’s announcement. Mr. Dar said subsequent tests have shown that these areas have been cleared of the disease, although the department is now checking more incident reports.

“We have never been in an epidemic state. We are responding to increased number of deaths of pigs,” he said, referring to the unusually high number of pig deaths in backyard farms in Rizal province just south of Metro Manila that had alerted authorities to a possible outbreak.

Mr. Dar said the department suspects widespread use of swill — leftovers especially from hotels — had caused the outbreak.

The World Organization for Animal Health has said there is no vaccine for the virus, although both the DA and the Health department have said it is harmless to humans.

“We want to allay the fears of the public by saying that, as long as pork is bought from reliable sources and it is cooked thoroughly, pork is safe to eat,” Health Secretary Francisco T. Duque III said in a statement on Monday.

“We want to reiterate to the public that ASF is not a threat to human health.”

Latest government data put the country’s swine stock at 12.7 million heads — consisting of 8 million pigs in backyard farms and 4.7 million in commercial farms — as of July 1.

Philippine Statistics Authority data showed that growth of hog production — which has the second-biggest contribution to total value of farm output after rice at more than a tenth — picked up in volume terms to 2.42% last year from 1.49% in 2017, though these were still slower than 2015’s 4.33% and 2016’s 5.25%.

The government has so far banned port and pork-based products from Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Laos, Latvia, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zambia.

Edwin Chen, president of the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, Inc., said in a mobile phone message: “Leaders of the hog industry are united with DA in ensuring safe and ample supply of… pork in the upcoming Christmas season.”

“Strict biosecurity measures are also being enforced in the backyard and commercial farms.”

National Federation of Hog Farmers, Inc. Chairman and President Chester Warren Y. Tan downplayed the situation, noting by phone: “Ang culling naman natin ay maliit na percentage lang ng total population so hindi sya makakaapekto. Kaya syang punuan ng commercial industry. Whatever ’yung sinasabi nating virus na mayroon tayo… hindi naman sya nakakaapekto.”(Pigs killed were just a small percentage of total population, so this situation will not affect the entire industry. Commercial hograisers scan plug the gap left by backyard raisers. So whatever this disease is is not affecting us.)”

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Rosendo O. So, who is a member of the crisis management team formed by DA together with the private sector, told reporters after the press conference that the 7,416 culled hogs were just 0.06% of the 12.7 million nationwide supply.

At the same time, he cited the need to educate consumers that pork in the market is fit for human consumption.

While authorities are also watching any effect on the corn sector, which supplies feed partly to livestock, PhilMaize Federation, Inc. President Roger V. Navarro said members of his group are not alarmed by the current situation since they also provide feed for poultry, as well as supply for industrial and human consumption.

Sa ngayon scare lang talaga ito, wala talagang translation… kasi hindi naman lahat ng corn is going to hogs… (This is just a scare for now; there is no big effect on our industry… because not all of corn output goes to hogs),” Mr. Navarro said. — with Reuters