High prices, not ASF, will make Filipinos stop eating pork

Published September 28, 2019, 7:46 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Madelaine B. Miraflor

While the government and producers have continuously reminded consumers that pork in the local market is safe amid the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak, it’s the prices brought about by tight supply that will make it hard for Filipinos to keep on eating the staple meat, especially this coming holiday season.

A butcher slices his pig products sold at Paco market on Wednesday. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has ordered the recall and seizure of all processed pork meat products from countries suspected to be affected by the Swine Flu. (JANSEN ROMERO / MANILA BULLETIN)
A butcher slices his pig products sold at Paco market. (JANSEN ROMERO / MANILA BULLETIN)

Jesus Cham, President of Meat Importers and Traders Association (MITA), said that the worst-case scenario amid the ASF outbreak in the country would be that prices will be so high that a lot of people will no longer be able to afford it.

ASF can’t infect humans and is not considered a food safety risk, but it is a fatal animal disease among pigs and wild boars with up to 100 percent case mortality rate. In the Philippines, it was only detected a few weeks ago, but in other countries like China and Vietnam, the virus had already killed millions of pigs, crippling the hog industry of both nations.

Right now, the local hog industry is saying that the country is self-sufficient in pork, raising 12 million to 13 million pigs worth P260 billion annually.

However, the Philippines, which also happens to be the 10th largest pork consumer in the world, is also currently the seventh-largest importer of pork in the world, with pork imports rising to a record high of 850,000 metric tons (MT) as of last year.

Cham said that some hog raisers in the country began liquidating their hog inventory even before ASF could hit their farms, a development that could result to tight supply in the market.

“[Soon] businesses will liquidate and prices are going to drop. We have seen this in other countries like China. And then there will be no more supply, so prices will start coming up. But, prices will come up only if there is purchasing power and Filipinos don’t have purchasing power. 85 percent don’t have purchasing power,” Cham said in an interview.

Right now, there are 12 confirmed areas in the Philippines that have already been hit by ASF although the word on the street is that the virus has already spread to Central Luzon, which currently has the second-highest swine inventory in the country.

Canadian pork

In terms of imports, Cham said the new arrivals for December are very “dicey”, with China, which has been the worst-hit country by ASF, taking up the bulk of the global supply.

“[Pork imports will] definitely be lower. China has been buying the product,” Cham said, adding that imported meat is no longer affordable nowadays since China has been importing aggressively, pushing the world prices up.

The good thing, Cham said, is that China has recently banned the entry of meat products coming from Canada because of alleged forged customs document, a move seen to benefit local importers.

“We see a lot of Canadian products coming in because China banned Canada because of a dispute. It’s fortunate for us that Canadian pork is available,” Cham further said.

Since last year, the Philippines has been issuing bans on the importation of pork products from ASF-hit countries namely Poland, Belgium, China, Hong Kong, Laos, Vietnam, Zambia, South Africa, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Mongolia, Moldova, Hungary, Latvia, Romania, Russia, and Ukraine.

In July, the country also banned the entry of pork products from Germany — one of the Philippines’ top suppliers of affordable raw pork material —  because of co-mingling issue. At that time, the government confiscated a shipment of pork supposedly coming from Germany, which included 250 kilos of pork from ASF-hit Poland.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), one of the strongest agriculture lobby groups in the country, has no problems with import bans. In fact, the group is pushing for a total ban on pork imports in order to prevent the entry or smuggling of products that may come from areas affected by ASF.

“The source of the ASF are these tainted pork imports,” SINAG Chair Rosendo So said. “We call on the good DA Secretary William Dar to suspend the issuance of SPS [Sanitary and Phytosanitary] permit for pork imports and cancel all SPS currently being processed for pork imports.”

According to him, protecting the local agriculture and supporting the interest of Filipino farmers at this time of an outbreak does not violate the country’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO).