AGRICULTURE Secretary William D. Dar said pork smuggling is to blame for the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in the Philippine hog industry.

Mr. Dar said the Department of Agriculture (DA) only approves meat imports from countries that are free from ASF, suggesting the entry of the disease through pork from unapproved sources.

“The DA assures the public of its support to the implementation of Republic Act No. 10611 or Food Safety Act of 2013, including the provisions for the ‘quarantine first policy’ to ensure that agricultural products are safe, hygienic and fit for consumption of every Filipino family,” Mr. Dar said.

According to the DA, the Bureau of Customs has partnered with other government agencies to improve border controls against smuggled pork.

The DA said it issues timely bans on pork from any country that reports outbreaks, while observing accreditation protocols for exporters without any such outbreaks.

Mr. Dar said the construction of the country’s first meat inspection facility remains “on track,” but has been slowed by the process for obtaining approvals.

“While waiting for the facility, the DA adopts a stringent two-stage inspection process upon entry of imported agricultural commodities. This is a science-based regulatory procedure that we strictly follow both for local and international shipment of agricultural products,” Mr. Dar said.

The DA said that quarantine officers of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) inspect meat imports at all ports of entry. After BAI inspection, meat products are examined at cold storage facilities accredited by the National Meat Inspection Service.

The DA plans to establish the first meat inspection facility or agricultural commodity examination area (ACEA) at the Port of Manila.

BAI Director Ronnie D. Domingo said the facility’s construction has to hurdle various legal and logistical barriers.

“Building a government structure in a privately-operated congested port area is not an overnight task to accomplish. The identification of a 2,000-square meter area for the ACEA will be settled soonest,” Mr. Domingo said.

Mr. Domingo said contractors are set to be hired to finish the detailed architectural and engineering designs required by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) before the release of funds.

“Although the concept designs are done, the DBM needs the detailed designs to effect fund release,” Mr. Domingo said.

Mr. Domingo added that the DA has been working with the Department of Transportation, Philippine Ports Authority, International Container Terminal Services, Inc., and Asian Terminals, Inc. to fast-track the process.

“The BAI has started the groundwork for the establishment of other ACEA facilities at the international ports of Subic, Batangas, Cebu, and Davao,” Mr. Domingo said.

In December, some P2 billion was allotted for the establishment of meat inspection facilities. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave