By Patricia B. Mirasol, Reporter

THE hog industry has no choice but to adopt stricter biosecurity measures until vaccines against African Swine Fever (ASF) become widely available, industry officials said.

“More education and more awareness on the part of the producer on how to make their farm biosecure [is needed], so they would be able to thrive under this kind of environment,” Edwin G. Chen, past president of the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, said.

A vaccine developed in Vietnam is not yet available in the Philippines, which means “the best thing to do is control ASF’s spread through strict biosecurity,” Rolando E. Tambago, current president of the federation, said via Viber.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) in Central Visayas has confirmed that ASF has also been detected in samples taken from other local government units in Cebu, aside from Carcar City, where the disease was detected on March 1.

ASF, first detected in the Philippines in 2019, can affect both farm-raised and wild pigs. It is transmitted through infected pigs, feces, or body fluids, or through equipment or people who work with pigs in farms with ineffective biosecurity.

Biosecurity are measures that are aimed to avoid transmission of pathogens, either between farms or within a farm.

Mr. Chen told BusinessWorld that his farms use a method known as the Swiss cheese barrier, which requires the disease to clear multiple barriers before any infection can manifest.

Sa loob ng farm may fence (the farm has a fence between) the dirty area and the human accommodations, and then another fence from that accommodation to the restricted area,” he said via Viber. “’Yung truck galing sa labas, hindi siya makakapasok (Trucks from outside aren’t allowed in). Every area has disinfection equipment.” 

“We try to encourage our members to double pork production by encouraging multiple barriers, so even without a vaccine we can increase output,” he added.

Mr. Chen said an infection can also occur when processed meat from red (or infectious) zones are fed to swine.

“That’s why in our farm, we don’t allow people to eat processed meat coming from outside. We only give them veggies, fish, and poultry,” he said.

The outbreaks have not been kept under control because “the DA — even before Secretaries (Emmanuel F.) Piñol and (William D.) Dar — had very little regard for compensation,” according to Fermin M. Diaz, who served as a consultant on ASF informational matters with the DA between mid-2020 and mid-2022.

“Rather than be hit by the virus, they will sell everything at a loss. Basta makabenta (As long as they can sell],” he said via Messenger. “That’s the tendency.”

Other components of the supply chain likewise play on farmers’ anxieties, Mr. Diaz added.

“Even if the virus is not present, they will approach farmers seeking to buy hogs, in the hope that farmers will dispose of their herds at a discount to avoid the possibility of losing everything,” he said. “Livestock traders and animal haulers with trucks usually earn from such a crisis.”  

Mr. Tambago said in farms in Luzon and Mindanao, even non-infected hogs were culled.

“The protocol is that all pigs within a 500-meter radius should be culled, but without compensation to farmers who stand to lose their livelihood. So it’s natural for them to hide (infected animals) and sell those that show no sign of the disease,” he said. 

Insurance through the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. (PCIC) is not effective because it pays less than the farmgate price, Mr. Tambago said, adding that the cost per 100 kilograms of P185/kg at farmgate is equivalent to P18,500 per head.

The PCIC announced in 2021 a P10,000 indemnity payout for each ASF-infected pig, but also announced a year later that swine in red or infected zones are ineligible for insurance.

On March 16, Cebu Governor Gwendolyn F. Garcia threatened to file charges against the DA’s Region VII office if it continued to cull animals in suspected ASF-infected areas. The DA has said it intends to enforce the national protocol on culling. The governor cited the Local Government Code’s provision that gives local governments the right to be consulted and to approve National Government action within their jurisdictions. 

Mr. Diaz said a reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test is the best way to diagnose ASF, though testing facilities are thin on the ground. 

“A lot of LGUs have very limited access to the confirmatory tests. Tantsiyahan na lang (They end up having to guess),” he said.

The scarcity of testing facilities prolongs the time to confirm a diagnosis, pending which farmers may also choose to offload their herds to traders, Mr. Diaz said.

“Every region should, at least have test kits. Because that is where farmers will run to,” he added.

“DA being the lead agency should provide a massive volume of test kits to determine and control spread of the disease,” said Mr. Tambago.

The DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry acknowledged receiving a BusinessWorld request for comment on March 14, but had not replied at deadline time.