Swine farmers and meat companies have skyrocketed meat prices by about P30 per kilo.
On July 12, 2020, the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) temporarily closed its swine farm, following reports of African swine fever (ASF) cases all across Laguna.
Prior to this, Dr. Rommel Sulabo, the director of the Institute of Animal Science (IAS), said that stricter biosecurity practices were implemented and lesser pigs would be used for research.
This was said to be in response to earlier cases already reported around Batangas, following the Taal Volcano eruption of January 12, 2020.
“Since the first case in Laguna was reported last March, we already anticipated that ASF [would] arrive in Los Banos in just a matter of time. That is the nature of the virus[.] [I]t is transmitted quickly and it is very difficult to control especially that there are many unreported cases. We already knew that we [would] need to temporarily shut down the swine unit [for] some time,” Sulabo said.
With 94 pigs for sale and for domestic livestock already terminated, Sulabo explained that as disinfection is underway, the facility would be off-limits for both people and pigs until repopulation would be deemed possible. Although Sulabo affirmed that none of the pigs showed any visible symptoms, including diarrhea, fever, reddish or bluish patches on the skin, and difficulty in breathing among others, he said that there was a clear need to take precautionary measures, following reports around Los Baños.
Such measures include continuous cleaning and disinfection of the area and environmental sampling for the disease.
Sulabo said that this process is called the 1-7-10 protocol, a measure enforced by the Department of Agriculture (DA) that involves depopulating pigs within a 1 km. radius of a positive case. According to him, the IAS has been depopulating until July 4.
Researches would continue off-premises, and concerned parties would be partnering with other institutions to accomplish the projects. However, one project was momentarily halted due to the cases. Sulabo said that this project handled native pig breeding research to assist small time farmers, adding that the closing of the facility will have minimal effect on the campus as it is primarily used more for research.
Prof. Jorge Dominguez, Assistant Professor for the Animal Breeding Division, lamented the circumstances surrounding the farm’s shutdown.
“It’s quite disheartening because all of our pigs, including those animals that will be use[d] for instructions, will be culled out,” Dominguez said while expressing hope that the administration and the campus would be able to overcome the matter.
Sulabo affirmed that the farm will only be opened once there is a vaccine to mitigate the virus, which he said that there is one being developed. He expressed hope that repopulation would be doable the next year once said vaccine would be made available by the end of 2020.
After the Taal volcanic eruption, Laguna has remained free of any ASF cases until last March, with Laguna’s Provincial Veterinarian Grace Bustamante revealing that there were reports from Brgy. Timugan in Los Baños, Pakil, and the town of Victoria.
Sulabo cited barangays Anos and Putho in Los Baños, and Paciano-Rizal in the Laguna de Bay area had cases that were not reported to the Provincial Veterinary Office of Laguna (PVO).
“This is one of the major problems of ASF control, because farmers tend to hide cases and do not report, which becomes a problem for those farms that are serious about controlling the virus. The virus now has travelled to other towns of Laguna,” Sulabo said.
Bustamante claimed that the number of pigs already killed to prevent the spread of the virus reached an estimate of a thousand, with several other areas in Laguna being closely monitored for probable cases.
Arnel de Mesa, regional director of the DA cited that flaws in biosecurity, specifically through transport trucks carrying the meat, were to blame. It was also said that pork transports from China would be strictly monitored, as it was believed that that was where the strain came from. A Reuters report claimed that heavy rains in Chinese provinces possibly lead to such development.
Due to the dwindling hog inventory, swine farmers and meat companies skyrocketed meat prices by about P30 more per kilo. A circular from the DA secretary William Dar stated that meats such as pork cuts kasim and liempo would leap from P90, P225 to P230, and P250, respectively. Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura chairperson Rosendo So said that many establishments had to close down and might be bankrupt, adding that many farmers sold much of their livestock as early as January or February to avoid having their pigs contract ASF.
So advised all hog raisers to seek-out alternative jobs and to not resume operation until a vaccine is available for the ASF.
Meanwhile, the DA permitted a minimal safe distance of 500 m from an infected hog farm instead of the usual 1 km. The agency assured that there would be a regular depopulation protocol, although no pigs would be culled unless there are visible cases. In response, So rejected this motion, citing an example in Pampanga, where pigs contracted the disease after four months of shutting down.
The DA had been reported to have been paying P5,000 for 20 pigs (excluding piglets) to aid the farmers.
Local government units (LGUs) have also been assisting farmers in whatever means possible, including in finances.
The Municipal Government of Rizal, Laguna have shared in a Facebook post that the LGU launched a Disinfection Drive to fight ASF and COVID-19, with the aid of government agencies such as the Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC), as well as the PVO. The same LGU advised the public to avoid suspicious meat sellers, and to seek a Veterinary Health Certificate from the businesses, with dealers required to secure an Animal
Shipping Permit to operate.
Hog raising had been moved almost prominently to Region IV-A, following outbreaks that took place in Bulacan and Pampanga, as well as Quezon City among other areas. The outbreak of ASF, while harmless to humans even in consumption, killed many pigs from hemorrhagic fever, with the number reaching to almost 200,500 since August of 2019.
Companies such as Mekeni Food Corporation recalled their products in order to address public worries regarding the products’ condition, and other LGUs from banning meat deals momentarily.
Further cases were reported in Aurora, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, and Quezon in Luzon since March, and in North Cotabato in Mindanao this June. [P]