New ASF variants in China threatens PH’s hog sector

 The government’s failure to stop smuggled pork imports has put the country at more risk of contracting new variants of African Swine Fever (ASF) that began to cause further damage in China, the world’s largest pork-producing country.

 In a text exchange, Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines Inc. (ProPork) President Edwin Chen said the Philippine government is not capable to prevent new ASF variants that were recently detected in China, which could cause more harm to the already severely battered local hog industry.

 “Time and time again we saw Yorme apprehending smuggled meats in Manila. These meats can come from China and we know China has an ongoing outbreak of ASF variant strains,” Chen said.

A customer pays for pork at a roadside market stall in Mandaluyong City, Manila, the Philippines. (Bloomberg file)

 “Our government, sad to say, has been lax or is not capable of guarding our borders against diseases or pests from coming in,” he added.

  The latest report from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that China’s pig production is not likely to rebound until at least mid-2021 amid the recent outbreak of new ASF variants in some parts of the world’s second-largest economy.

 Since the last few weeks of 2020, China has been experiencing a resurgence of ASF. This was after Chinese veterinary institutes identified new strains of ASF, which due to lower virulence and lethality were able to spread to a larger portion of the herd before being detected.

 Reports noted that the new ASF strains appeared to cause lameness in breeding sows and increased the piglet mortality rate, the USDA report said.

 “During this period, industry sources noted that the mortality rate and/or culling of breeding sows due to ASF infections ranged from 20 percent to as high as 50 percent, depending on the area,” the report further said.

 ASF, a highly contagious and fatal disease among pigs, first originated in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1920s. It was only in 2018 when the virus was detected in Asia and first began killing thousands of hogs in China. 

A year later, in 2019, the virus managed to creep into the backyard farms of the Philippines, one of the largest pork importing countries in the world.

In a separate inquiry, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chair Rosendo So blamed the damage caused by ASF to the country’s lack of a first border inspection facility.

“The problem is we don’t have the facility that will allay our fears that no more ASF of any variant or any other animal disease can enter the country,” So said in a text exchange on Tuesday.

 “We hope that the new variants have not yet entered the country but there is no assurance that they haven’t yet,” he added.

 The Philippine government is currently working on the construction of the country’s first Agricultural Commodity Examination Area, a First Border Inspection Facility that the Department of Agriculture (DA) is planning to build in partnership with the Philippine Ports Authority (PPA).

 It was in late 2019 when DA first announced the plan to build ACEA, which will cost around P500 million to construct. However, until now, construction for the first ACEA is yet to start. 

 The construction of ACEA is one of DA’s proposed solutions to prevent animal diseases like ASF to enter the Philippines. 

It will also make the agency finally compliant of ‘Quarantine First Policy’ of the Republic Act (RA) 10611 or the Food Safety Act of 2013.

“Our borders are very porous and smuggling and technical smuggling are rampant,” Chen said.

“I don’t know if our government laboratories are capable of detecting them or not. I heard the variant strains are harder to detect in animals. Therefore, like COVID-19, there will be asymptomatic shredders,” he further said.

To address this matter, he said the government “should calibrate its importation and should really do an honest to goodness clean-up of its rank as well as BOC ”.