With the recent upward spiral in prices of basic goods, such as rice, sugar, onions, pork and chicken, Filipino consumers are increasingly finding it difficult to put food on the table and keep body and soul together.
The supply of a protein-rich source like pork is under threat, however, because of African Swine Fever or ASF, thus raising the dire prospect of shortages and higher prices for this commodity.
ASF is a viral disease causing hemorrhagic fever among domestic pigs and wild boars with a mortality rate reaching 100 percent, with a devastating impact on pig populations.
The Department of Agriculture reported that as of the start of this month, there were active ASF cases in 75 barangays in 42 municipalities in 12 provinces in seven regions.
The DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry has identified these provinces as 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 number of ASF-affected areas from 2019 to the present has reached 4,308 barangays in 788 municipalities in 59 provinces in 15 regions.
The ASF outbreaks have reduced the country’s hog population from 12 million pigs to nine million. It would take at least five years to repopulate the national inventory, according to estimates.
While the government has carried out measures to help piggeries hard-hit by ASF, the possibility of future major outbreaks makes the entire hog industry jittery.
After China reported the first ASF outbreak in August 2018, the disease has since spread across 16 other countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines reported its first outbreak in September 2019, and by June 2021, our total hog population had already declined by half to 6.6 million pigs from 13 million pre-ASF.
The Philippine Statistics Authority reported that total pork output decreased by almost 24 percent over the June-October 2022 period compared to the same period in 2021.
The ASF outbreaks in the Philippines resulted in loss of livelihoods of 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.
What is urgently needed now is government assistance to ASF-devastated stakeholders, especially the backyard hog raisers.
They are hoping Malacañang would have the same firm resolve in ending the ASF problem the soonest, and one of the effective measures available for the Palace do so is by vaccinating local hogs.
The BAI can actually do this by fast-tracking field trials on an available and potent vaccine produced in Vietnam, so that this medicine can be used in a massive inoculation program for hogs in the local swine industry.
The BAI has yet to certify a vaccine, and conduct a vaccination drive.
But it has started tests on this Vietnamese vaccine known as AVAC ASF Live vaccine, and fast-tracking this process could clear the way to a mass vaccination drive for local hog raisers.
Vietnam is poised to begin this month a nationwide distribution of a vaccine whose efficacy rate, when administered to pigs between eight and 10 weeks old, has been proven at 95 percent.
This ASF Live vaccine, developed and produced by AVAC Vietnam Co. Ltd., is the world’s first and only commercially available one proven to safely combat the highly contagious animal disease.
It was approved for circulation last year, and 600,000 doses have since then been administered under clinical trials and field tests in piggeries across Vietnam under the supervision of the Vietnamese government.
AVAC is the first veterinary vaccine factory in Vietnam certified under the World Health Organization-Good Manufacturing Practices (WHO-GMP).
Local safety and efficacy trials using this vaccine are already being done locally under the supervision of BAI in four farms in our country. The trials are due to be completed by April 2023.
Reports indicate that AVAC partnered just recently with the Manila-based KPP Powers on the distribution of this vaccine in the Philippines.
To stop the spread of ASF in the country through a nationwide inoculation program for our hogs is an urgent task. This will prevent possible supply shortfalls in the future that could trigger price spirals.
We recall that spikes in pork prices in the past jacked up inflation, with meat accounting for about five percent of overall inflation over the quarter-century from 1995 to 2020. But when meat prices soared in the first quarter of 2021, it contributed nearly 20 percent of overall inflation in the January-March period.
A massive vaccination drive like the one conducted in Vietnam could put an end to ASF in the Philippines.
It will be the best government move to assist ASF-hit hog raisers, restore pork production to its previous levels, and ensure adequate and accessible supply of this meat at more affordable prices in Metro Manila and elsewhere.
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