By Madelaine Miraflor
The Department of Agriculture (DA) has maintained that even if the deadly African Swine Fever (ASF) is said to have been spreading fast in more areas, the pigs that died and were culled due to the virus is still less than one percent of the country’s total swine population.
During a Senate hearing on Wednesday, a lawmaker asked Agriculture Undersecretary for Operations Ariel Cayanan for details on how much pigs have already died due to ASF. He replied: “We are still in less than 1 percent of the total [hog] population”.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said that only 20,000 pigs have so far died and were culled due to ASF, which represents 0.15 percent of the country’s total swine population of 12.8 million as of July.
Since then, ASF has already spread to more areas in Quezon City and Bulacan, but confirmation on these cases did not come from the DA but from the local government officials. DA has also not yet released any updated number on hog deaths due to ASF.
ASF is currently the biggest threat faced by the country’s P260 billion local hog industry, which raises 12 to 13 million hogs annually.
The virus can’t infect humans and is not considered a food safety risk but is a fatal animal disease affecting pigs and wild boars with up to 100 percent fatality rate. This means that this particular disease can wipe out the entire hog population in a certain area once it reaches it.
Though still unconfirmed, ASF was said to have reached more areas in Bulacan, particularly in Plaridel. This was nearly a month since the first ASF outbreak was recorded in the province, specifically in Guiguinto.
Over the weekend, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte also said new areas in Quezon City have been hit by ASF.
Belmonte said the local government already started culling pigs in Barangay Tandang Sora after several pigs showed signs of being hit by the virus. Commonwealth too was hit by ASF.
Tandang Sora and Commonwealth are the 18th and 19th areas in the country that have confirmed ASF cases, next to Tatalon, Silangan, Payatas, and other barangays in Bulacan, Rizal, Pangasinan, and Pampanga. This was also confirmed in the DA’s latest ASF bulletin.
Once confirmed, Plaridel would be the 20th and latest area to record an ASF outbreak.
The DA likewise commended the local government officials and swine industry leaders for their swift and decisive action, and sustained strong cooperation in the continued efforts to manage, control, and contain ASF.
“The quick and firm response of our local chief executives in the provinces of Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga and Pangasinan, and Quezon City government, are indeed commendable,” said Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
He said foremost of their efforts were the strict implementation of the “1-7-10” protocol on ASF-affected barangays and the “24-7” animal quarantine checkpoints to prevent the spread of the disease in other adjoining areas
“We greatly appreciate the initiatives and ASF measures implemented by Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte; Rizal Governor Rebecca ‘Nini’ Ynarez; Rodriguez, Rizal Mayor Dennis L. Fernandez; Antipolo City Mayor Andrea B. Ynares; San Mateo, Rizal Mayor Cristina C. Diaz; Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro; Pampanga Governor Lilia Pineda; Bulacan Governor Daniel Fernando; Guiguinto, Bulacan Mayor Ambrocio Cruz; and Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino III; and Manila Mayor Francisco ‘Isko’ Moreno Domagoso for apprehending imported canned pork products from ASF-affected countries and promoting sustained consumption of local pork and processed pork products,” Dar said in the bulletin.
“Despite the mounting challenges, they are deftly managing, controlling, and containing ASF in their respective localities, in strong partnership with commercial hog industry partners, the PNP and the military,” he added.
To date, the DA Crisis Management Task Force on Swine has reported that about 12,000 head of swine tested positive of ASF in more than 20 barangays in Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga and Quezon City.
“This represents one-third of the total depopulated pigs in ‘ground zero’ or within the one-kilometer quarantine zones, following the 1-7-10 protocol,” said task force head Dr. Reildrin Morales.
Dar said that since last week, the DA has deployed 100 additional staff to support laboratory operations, and airport and checkpoint inspections, as part the agency’s elevated response in ASF- affected areas.
The DA chief also appealed to traders not to buy ASF-affected hogs, and to backyard raisers not to sell ASF-sick pigs, as such malpractices are punishable by law.
Right now, backyard raisers living in ASF-hit areas who surrender their pigs for culling are being paid P3,500 per head. This, a lawmaker stressed, is not enough and the DA should pay the raisers higher amount of indemnity.