By Madelaine B. Miraflor
As things keep going against the meat processing industry — with more local government units (LGUs) closing their doors on processed pork products coming from other areas and the hog raisers perceived to be the only sector at the receiving end of African Swine Fever (ASF) — members of the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (PAMPI) have directed their ire at the government.
They also warned about the mass layoff that could take place because of the “ASF scare.”
On Thursday, PAMPI urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to “once and for all” disclose how the ASF virus spread from a piggery in Montalban, Rizal to stop the LGUs from making “unnecessary decisions such as an arbitrary ban on all pork products.”
The group issued the statement after Laguna became the 65th province to impose a ban on processed pork products amid the spread of ASF virus, a fatal animal disease that could decimate the swine population.
In the Philippines, ASF has only been detected in Luzon so far, resulting to the death and killing of as much as 62,000 hogs in Rizal, Bulacan, Quezon City, Pampanga, Antipolo, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, and Cavite.
DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) suspected that swill feeding of pigs may have caused these outbreaks, but processed meats are also now being blamed for it after a clinical report from the same agency showed that some samples of hotdogs, longganisa, and tocino were tested positive for the ASF virus.
Unfortunately for PAMPI, the report came out as it just succeeded to lobby for the unrestricted entry of processed pork products from ASF-hit Luzon to other areas in the country, especially Luzon and Visayas.
To be specific, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issued an order directing LGUs to exempt processed pork products – specifically those that were certified by the DA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – from their pork import bans.
In Mindanao, nobody wants to follow this, with even more LGUs issuing a ban on processed pork products.
PAMPI said that “in imposing arbitrary ban on processed pork products, LGUs ignored scientific evidence that processed products which are cooked at high temperatures are incapable of spreading the ASF virus”.
A report from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) showed that products that are cooked or steamed at temperatures over and above the cooking standard of 70 degree Celsius for 30 minutes should be free from the ASF virus.
PAMPI president Felix O. Tiukinhoy said that because of the arbitrary ban or restrictions on the sale and distribution of processed pork products, PAMPI member-companies are being forced to draw contingency measures to stay in business.
These measures include downsizing operations and sending workers on a furlough or permanent lay-off.
The other day, PAMPI and the local hog raisers that are part of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) dragged each other amid the ASF hullabaloo.
This, as SINAG repeatedly claimed that ASF reached the Philippine borders because of imported pork products, citing the local hog raisers, not the meat processors, being the main victims in this situation.
SINAG also supported the LGUs’ ban on the processed pork products coming from Luzon.
Right now, only 5 percent of the raw pork needs of PAMPI members are locally sourced, while 95 percent are being imported overseas.
Tiukinhoy, for his part, said the local hog industry is largely composed of backyard growers “who do not regularly subject their animals to veterinary inspection and who mainly rely on swill for feeds”.
“We do not want to expose ourselves to further risks by using locally sourced pork that could be laden with ASF,” he further said.
Pork products from VisMin not safe
Tiukinhoy also specifically went after the LGUs in Visayas and Mindanao, which have kept their processed pork bans despite the DILG order.
“Even in the Visayas and Mindanao, it is not safe to buy pork materials even without ASF because of the presence of so many backyard raisers. Even some big hog companies there buy from backyard raisers when they cannot meet the demand,” Tiukinhoy said.
“We believe they should voluntarily have their pigs tested for ASF too to assure the public,” he added.
National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc. (NFHFI) President Chester Warren Tan said the other day that there isn’t a need for a random testing of pigs and pork products in Visayas and Mindanao because “they can take care of themselves”.
“They weren’t able to completely to do [the random testing] in Luzon yet so they should focus on that first,” Tan said. “Visayas and Mindanao are doing everything to protect ourselves so let it be”.
He issued the statement after PAMPI asked its members to temporarily stop using local pork as their raw materials and called on authorities to randomly test for ASF the pork “not just here in Luzon but even in the Visayas and Mindanao areas to restore consumer confidence”.