By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Department of Agriculture (DA) is not keen on supporting an extended ban on pork imports amid complaints of over importation and threats of African swine flu (ASF) outbreak.
Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano on Wednesday said the DA cannot just impose a total ban on pork importation as appealed by groups since this would require reasonable and legal basis.
“We can only [impose importation] ban on countries with ASF,” he told the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, which conducted an inquiry on the government’s contingency plans against the entry and spread of ASF in the Philippines.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri in the hearing asked Serrano whether or not it would be prudent for the government to implement a temporary total ban on pork importation to increase security efforts against ASF.
The undersecretary recalled DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol already raised the possibility of expanding the ongoing prohibition on pork imports from ASF-infected countries.
While the government can do such with the aid of prima facie evidence or other “precautionary” grounds, Serrano, said that “you cannot maintain the ban for a long, long time.”
“If you ban counties with very clean ASF records…magkakaproblema po tayo, kasi walang legal reasons (we might have a problem, because there are no legal reasons). Lalo na po kung nakakacomply po sila (Especially if they are complying with our laws),” he said.
The government has banned the entry of pork meat and products from 15 countries that are affected by ASF.
Serrano said under current laws, pork and swine products from foreign countries are allowed to enter the Philippines as long as they pass the government’s sanitary requirements and product standards. Pork, he noted, is a “liberalized” commodity here.
It was Rufina Salas, chairperson of the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries’ (PCAF) Committee on Poultry, Livestock and Feed Crops who proposed during the hearing the imposition of a “temporary total ban” on pork imports to include countries that are not infected with ASF.
PCAF is an agency attached to the DA, which aids the latter in coordination and monitoring of agricultural and fisheries modernization processes, among other functions.
Zubiri supported the proposal, saying that aside from the 15 ASF-infected nations, their “neighboring countries” should also be included in the import ban.
Salas likewise appealed to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider recalling pork products from China which were exported here after the country was declared ASF-infected.
The FDA, in response, said it will look into the proposal. Pilar Pagayunan of the FDA Center for Food regulation and Research said 38 China-made products were given certification prior to the declaration of ASF in the country.
At present, the FDA halted the application for product certifications from countries infected with ASF.
During the legislative inquiry, National Federation of Hog Farmers chairman Chester Tan pointed out an oversupply in the country’s buffer stock of pork meat due to supposed overimportation.
Citing DA figures, Tan said the country in 2018 had 440 million kilograms of pork buffer good for 60-70 days. This was far from the 23-day buffer stocking for the 100-million kilogram “shortage” of the local industry that should be filled in by imports, he said.
Tan said the local m industry recorded a 95-percent sufficiency, supplying 1.6 billion of the 1.7 billion kilograms of pork demand.
“We have already talked with the DA Sec for solution, so it would not exceed. Instead of just 100 million [kilograms], we had 400. We are not against imported…but we should only get what we need,” Tan said in Filipino.
Monching Cruz, of a group of backyard hog raisers,, said that while local producers cannot fully supply the country’s meat demands, the government, he appealed, should go slow on importing pork.
He said backyard hog raisers are most hit by the oversupply, since this triggers the decline in prices, with imported pork cheaper than their produce.
“Kung wala nang habas ‘yong pag-iimport, ano pang mapapala ng ating producers?” Cruz said in an interview after the hearing.
Supporting the group’s lamentations, Zubiri said an unrestrained importation of pork, like in sugar, would hurt the local industry. He called for the “right pricing” that would benefit the industy and consumers.
Backyard hog raisers make up 65 percent of the country local industry, or about 480,000 of them, including their workers.
Of the 28 million swine population recorded in 2018, 18 million are backyard-raised while some 10 million were raised commercial firms, Tan said.