By Madelaine B.Miraflor
Washington, DC – A total ban on pork imports in the Philippines amid its first cases of African Swine Fever (ASF) may lead to a shortfall in this commodity and that any action leaning towards this move won’t make sense unless it’s science-based, officials from the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said.
The statement of NPPC, a trade association representing United States pork producers and other industry stakeholders, came after Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), one of the strongest agriculture lobby groups in the Philippines, called for the total ban of pork imports in the Southeast Asian nation as part of the containment measures amid the ASF outbreak.
“The source of the ASF are these tainted pork imports,” SINAG Chair Rosendo So said. “It is high time to protect the P416-billion hog industry.”
The local group called for this measure after the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that the dead pigs found in some backyard farms in Rizal province in August were tested positive for ASF.
To manage, contain and control the spread of ASF into other parts of the country, DA reported that it had so far culled 7,416 pigs.
ASF, a fatal animal disease affecting pigs and wild boars with up to 100 percent case fatality rate, can’t infect humans and is not considered a food safety risk, but it can be spread indirectly through people’s clothing, footwear, vehicles, farm equipment, and livestock feed.
Some foreign experts suspect that the influx of tourists from China could be one of the possible reasons why the ASF reached the Philippines.
Since last year, China had been the worst-hit country in terms of ASF and recorded more than a hundred ASF outbreaks.
For his part, Cary Sifferath, Senior Director of Global Programs for the US Grains Council, noted that “every time Chinese group goes on vacation somewhere, they got pork sausages in their suitcase and even here in the US, we are trying hard to keep an eye on that”. Meanwhile, Chinese tourists to the Philippines rose by 30 percent to 733,769 from January to May.
As this happens, NPPC Director for International Affairs Maria Zieba said the Philippines, the seventh-largest importer of pork in the world and the 10th largest pork consumer globally, could face a shortfall in the supply of pork if it will impose a total ban on imports.
“If you ban all imports, where are you going to get it?” Zieba said in a meeting with the Filipino participants of the Cochran Fellowship Program on Agricultural Trade Policy and Consumer Advocacy here.
“If it’s not science-based, it’s very hard to understand why a government would move forward with a ban on products that don’t have ASF. We don’t want to set that precedent. We want it to be rules-based and we want others to treat us fairly and we treat others fairly, especially on the pork side,” she added.
Right now, the US is one of the top sources of imported pork for the Philippines. From January to July, the US exported 21,767 metric tons (MT) of pork to the Philippines, which is down by 19 percent from the 27,026 MT from the same period last year.
During this period, the value of US pork exports to the Philippines stood 23 percent lower to $50 million from $64.7 million recorded in the same period last year.
The US total pork exports stood at $6.4 billion during the entire 2018.
For his part, NPPC Director for Science and Technology Dan Kovich said that it’s important for countries to compartmentalize when it comes to handling ASF cases.
“It’s crucial that you are actually able to regionalize or compartmentalize the level of control and demonstrate that there is no movement… if the country can’t do that, if they don’t have the veterinary infrastructure in order to do that, then yes, a total ban [on imports] may be appropriate,” Kovich said.
“We always want to be scientific and risk-based. Politics are always around. As an organization, we always look at the science. Countries have to demonstrate the infrastructure and ability to really certify that region or compartment is controlled,” he added.