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African Swine Fever in the Philippines, Explained

And how it spells trouble for the agricultural economy.
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The Department of Agriculture (DA) has just confirmed that African Swine Fever (ASF) has reached the Philippines. In a press conference held earlier today, Agriculture Secretary William Dar disclosed that 14 of the 20 blood samples sent to a United Kingdom laboratory tested positive for ASF. Dar also confirmed that 7,416 hogs have been culled so far.

This comes two weeks after the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) reported a spike in hog mortality, raising alarm that ASF, a deadly swine disease, had reached out shores. 

Dar previously refrained from mentioning the location of the affected areas in an effort to contain the situation, but has since confirmed that the worst hit areas are Rodriguez and Antipolo in Rizal and Guiguinto in Bulacan.

In response to the first report of ASF, the DA strengthened its monitoring and vigilance, imposing stricter quarantine measures at the country’s ports of entry at land and sea. The DA has already ordered the culling of all hogs within a one-kilometer radius of infected farms in Bulacan and Rizal provinces. Meanwhile, swine farms within a seven-kilometer radius will be checked by the BAI to determine if a possible infection has occurred. Farms within a 10-kilometer radius will be required to submit a mandatory report on the disease. Movement of live pigs and pork products have been limited in the area, and swill feeding has now been prohibited.

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While the affected areas are being quarantined, the implications of the disease infiltrating our local agriculture sector spell trouble for the economy.

Understanding African Swine Fever

ASF is a highly contagious and dangerous disease for pigs, with the ability to decimate entire populations if not detected and culled at once. The disease is hemorrhagic in nature, causing infected pigs to die within a matter of days. There is currently no cure or vaccine for the disease, which is why governments have resorted to culling as the only solution to preventing the disease’s spread.

ASF was first discovered in Sub-Saharan Africa at the start of the 20th century and its breakouts have been sporadic over the course of one century. It has steadily been spreading across the world, first traveling from Africa to Europe where countries such as Spain took 35 years to recover from an ASF outbreak. In recent years, the disease has moved across the Eurasia continent, affecting countries such as China, Mongolia, North Korea, Hong Kong, Vietnan, and Cambodia. In China alone, more than one million hogs have already been culled, and by the end of the year, the country expects to slaughter an additional 200 million infected pigs.

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The disease has proven to be extremely resilient as it can survive extreme temperatures and pH environments. ASF can survive up to 60 days in canned stew, 104 days in frozen meat, and 399 days days in Parma hams. The disease only affects pigs, meaning it poses no harm to human health, however humans can be carriers of the disease. The main cause of the disease’s rapid spreading is the contamination of vehicles and workers near affected pig populations, with live pigs and pork products making up only 19 percent of the causes of outbreaks. 

But the real dilemma with ASF is the threat it poses to the local hog industry, which is currently valued at over P200 billion.

An ASF-affected economy

If ASF in the Philippines is not contained and controlled, the disease could cost the country its P200-billion hog industry, as well as the livelihoods of millions of meat industry personnel.

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“Although it is not contagious to humans, the disease could wipe out the hog population of a country,” said former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.

China, which has been hit the hardest by ASF, has already experienced the economic impacts of an ASF-affected market. ASF wiped a third of its pig population, which has caused pork prices to skyrocket, urging on foreign pork imports. The Philippine agriculture industry could meet the same fate as China and be urged to import more pork products in order to meet local demand, thereby detrimentally affecting the local hog industry, including the farmers, traders, and businessmen behind it. 

Earlier this year, the DA began its precautionary measures to prevent ASF’s spread to the Philippines as more and more surrounding countries were reported to be infected with the virus. Meat products from the following countries were banned from entering the country: Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, Zambia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and North Korea.

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However, isolated cases were reported in which a fridge full of imported pork from China was found in Zambales and frozen Chinese pork products were reportedly being sold in a store in Manila.

To ensure that consumers do not become carriers of the deadly swine disease, DA spokesperson Noel Reyes urges consumers to check that the pork products they purchase have been stamped by the National Meat Inspection Service.

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About The Author
Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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