The pork shortfall is aggravating the nation’s inflationary woes. Rising meat prices, especially that of pork, have steadily eroded the purchasing power of Filipino consumers and have become a major contributor to Philippine inflation.
Five of the food items in the inflation basket have in the past seriously hurt Filipino consumers because of the undue spike in the prices of rice, pork, chicken, sugar and onions. The cost of pork, in particular, is lately making a dent on inflation.
Meat accounted for just about 5 percent of the overall inflation from 1995 to 2020. But when meat prices soared in the first quarter of 2021, it contributed nearly 20 percent to the overall inflation in the January-March period.
Data from the Department of Finance showed that from its 3.5-percent contribution to inflation in 2019, the cost of meat accounted for 4.3 percent in 2020 and a much, much higher 19.6 percent in the first three months of 2021.
With meat inflation rising to almost 20 percent in the first quarter of 2021, it became the leading contributor to overall inflation at 1.3 percentage points. Its contribution to the inflation rate was even bigger than the 1 percentage-point input of rice to inflation during the rice crisis of 2018.
Meat shortage clearly is one of the culprits for rising prices. One simplistic solution is to rely on imports to stabilize pork prices, just what the previous administration did with rice. The rice tariffication law during the Duterte administration has stabilized the retail cost of the staple, while recent imports and crackdowns on smugglers and hoarders have led to relatively lower market prices of both onions and sugar.
But chicken and pork are of a different mold because of the respective threats of the Avian Influenza (AI), or bird flu, and African Swine Fever (ASF)―both of which had decimated the fowl and hog population and induced supply-and-price problems in the local market.
Data from the Department of Agriculture show that ASF cases are active in 75 barangays in 42 municipalities in 12 provinces and in seven regions as of February 2 this year. These provinces, according to the DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), are Cagayan, Aurora, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Camarines Sur, Iloilo, Northern Samar, Zamboanga del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur.
The cumulative number of affected areas since ASF broke out in the Philippines in 2019 up to the present reached 4,308 barangays in 788 municipalities, 59 provinces and 15 regions, per a DA report. The DA has acknowledged that the ASF outbreaks had reduced country’s hog population by half to 6.6 million pigs from 13 million pre-ASF. It would now take at least five years to repopulate the national inventory.
Vaccination is critical
The prospects of future major outbreaks have spooked a number of hog raisers, who have yet to recover from their ASF losses. They have dilly-dallied on repopulating or re-investing in their piggeries.
The Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (Office Internationale des Epizooties or OIE) describes ASF as a viral disease causing hemorrhagic fever among domestic pigs and wild boars with a mortality rate reaching 100 percent―a devastating impact on pig populations.
The ASF outbreaks in the Philippines resulted in loss of livelihoods for hog backyard raisers, the closure of large commercial pig farms, and the loss of revenues of allied industries with a projected economic value of some P100 billion yearly.
However, it is not too late to reverse the trend of declining hog population. The BAI should aggressively pursue a nationwide vaccination program. The agency, for one, can speed up its field trials on an available and potent vaccine produced in Vietnam, known as AVAC ASF Live vaccine. Fast-tracking the process could clear the way to a mass vaccination drive for local hog raisers.
Some stakeholders believe the government can follow the lead of Vietnam, which is poised to begin a nationwide distribution of the vaccine whose efficacy rate, when administered to pigs between 8 and 10 weeks old, has been proven at 95 percent.
The ASF Live vaccine, developed and produced by AVAC Vietnam Co. Ltd., is the world’s first and only commercially available one proven to safely fight the highly contagious animal disease. The medicine was approved for circulation last year and 600,000 doses have since then been administered in clinical trials and field tests in piggeries across Vietnam under the supervision of the Vietnamese government.
A local vaccination drive will be the best government approach in helping ASF-hit hog raisers and restoring pork production to its previous levels. It will ensure adequate and accessible meat supply at more affordable prices in Metro Manila and elsewhere. A healthy hog population will also mitigate the overall inflation rate.
E-mail: rayenano @yahoo.com or [email protected]