By Madelaine B. Miraflor
A group of meat importers said the price of pork will rise if the Department of Agriculture (DA) moves to ban importation from more countries, but another group, composed of local hog raisers, said this is something that consumers can easily deal with compared to the damage that African Swine Fever (ASF) could cause the country’s hog industry.
Jesus Cham, President of Meat Importers and Traders Association (MITA), said that right now, the Philippines continues to import pork from countries that are not yet affected by the deadly pig disease, sustaining the price level of the commodity at a normal level.
These countries are United States, Canada, Germany, France, and Netherlands. The word on the street is that the DA had just stopped issuing pork import permits for some of these countries as they are now considered “high risk areas”, which are likely to be hit by ASF since they are contiguous to countries that were already hit by the hog disease.
“I heard DA wants to consider the three as high risk areas, contrary to the accepted scientific definition,” Cham said. “Price for imported pork will definitely go up ,” he added.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol earlier 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 it 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).
Piñol has not yet revealed the list of high risk areas, but he said that meat importers and traders are fully supportive of this plan.
Unlike Cham, Rosendo So, chairman of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), has no problem with DA suspending the importation of pork from the US, Canada, and Germany since the Philippines is already 96 percent self-sufficient in pork.
"We think if ASF enter the country, the price will increase more since our demand consume 96 percent locally," So said in a text message.
"If you can see, China already culled 30 percent of its local production because of ASF and Vietnam already culled 2 million heads. We will see inadequate supply from other countries to supply not only us but also other countries. So it's better to protect the 96 percent than the 4 percent entering the country," he added.
As of now, the Philippines still have a surplus for pork that could last for three months.
As for prices, PorkProducers Federation of the Philippines Inc. (ProPork) President Edwin Chen said the farm-gate prices for pork right now still remains low at P105 per kilo to P120 per kilo, depending on the areas.
He also said that the country still have a lot of supply because of the massive pork importation that traders were allowed to conduct over the past few months.
The inventory, he said, has not stopped building up since December, especially since the country has not stopped importing pork in one bit.
Valued at P260 billion, the hog industry currently raises 12 million to 13 million pigs. Chen said this could further grow this year, with the support of the government and the increase in the supply of grains needed to make livestock feeds.
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 virus.
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.