By Madelaine B. Miraflor
The Department of Agriculture (DA) said it was “well-prepared” to guard the country against bird flu, citing a ban that was put in place 16 years ago suspending the importation of poultry products coming from China.
DA Spokesperson Noel Ocampo Reyes said the agency does not see the need to issue a formal reminder that the ban versus poultry imports from bird flu-hit China that was issued in 2004 was still effective.
This, while he also recognized the fact that despite the ban, smuggled chicken meat from the world’s most populated country were still making their way through Philippine borders.
“No [need to issue a reminder. The BOC [Bureau of Customs] should know that already,” Reyes said.
“The ban has been in place since 2004 that’s why inspections are being done by BOC. The problem is some [illegal shipment] still gets through, right?” he added.
In December, BOC seized as much as 12,000 kilos of illegally imported meat from China, including frozen pork, chicken, and peking duck.
This was despite the existing ban against pork and poultry products from China due to bird flu and the deadly hog disease African Swine Fever (ASF).
On late Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary William Dar issued a statement, saying the DA is “well-prepared” to prevent and contain the entry of the bird flu or avian influenza (AI) virus, particularly sub-type H5N6, which was recently reported in Xinjiang, China.
Dar said the DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) has been conducting twice-a-year surveillance in high-risk areas and traditional destinations of migratory birds, in addition to conducting regular tests on birds intended for local transport and trade.
For instance, in 2019 the BAI has tested a total of 8,245 samples at the Animal Disease Diagnosis and Reference Laboratory and Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratories around the country.
“To date, test results remain negative,” said Dar.
Meanwhile, DA also said that birds intended for local transport and trade also have to undergo bird flu testing before shipping permits can be issued. Last year, a total of 5,295 samples were tested by the BAI laboratories, which yielded negative results.
Critics of the government, however, said that DA should instead focus on the smuggling of poultry products because migration among birds is a natural phenomenon.
Aside from China, temporary ban remains in place on imports of domestic and wild birds, poultry meat, day-old chicks, eggs, and poultry products coming from other countries with positive cases of highly pathogenic AI. These include South Korea, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and recently Poland.
The Philippines submitted to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) a self-declaration of freedom from avian influenza in the first quarter of 2019.
Dar is now urging poultry raisers and other industry stakeholders to implement measures in partnership with the BAI to keep the country free from bird flu.
As of January this year, the Philippines’ total chicken inventory was estimated at 178.26 million birds.
The inventory of native/improved chicken however dropped by 3.2 percent, from 83.34 million birds in 2019 to 80.68 million birds in 2020, while broiler chicken inventory at 56.39 million birds significantly went down by 12.2 percent from its previous year’s level of 64.22 million birds.
Layer chicken inventory, on the other hand, was recorded at 41.20 million birds or 6.2 percent higher than the previous year’s record of 38.81 million birds.