Photo: imported pork based cold cuts
“MA LING ALERT.”
That was the headline of EDGE Davao last Wednesday.
“Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Piñol has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove from the shelves of retailers such pork products as Ma Ling that were manufactured August 2018 onwards as these may be contaminated with African swine fever (ASF),” the news report said.
But it’s not only Ma Ling though. Any other pork and pork products “shipped in after (the effectivity of the ban) should be recalled from the market,” the state-owned Philippine News Agency (PNA) pointed out.
In another news report carried by the website of CNN Philippines, Piñol explained the necessity and urgency of the banning. “While we consider Ma Ling and other processed pork products as minimal risk products, we still would like to pursue the banning of these products because we cannot take chances because according to experts the ASF virus can survive the processing and even heat used in the processing,” he said.
The ban is actually part of measures that the Department of Agriculture is implementing to ensure our country free of ASF. In an advisory, the FDA listed 16 countries covered by the temporary ban; these are: China, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Zambia, South Africa, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Moldova, and Belgium.
It is expected that the prices of pork and pork products will increase. In a news report carried by Rappler, Piñol asked: “What should be prioritize: the P1 to P2 increase in the price of pork or the destruction of an industry worth P200 billion?”
Earlier this year, Julio Sobrepena, the enforcement head section of the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) in Davao region, said that all pork and pork products being sold in the market in Davao City are guaranteed free from ASF.
The NMIS regional office is closely coordinating with other government agencies – Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Animal Industry-National Veterinary Service, and the City Veterinarian’s Office – to ensure that no pork and pork products coming from ASF-affected countries will enter the local market.
“Our office here will continuously monitor all meats being sold in Davao markets and see to it that meat products will have a Meat and Meat Products Inspection Certificate,” Sobrepena was quoted as saying.
ASF, a viral disease of pigs and wild boar that is usually deadly, is endemic in sub–Saharan Africa. In Europe, it has been endemic in Sardinia for several decades. In 2007, outbreaks occurred in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the European part of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Late last year, outbreaks of ASF was reported in China.
“The threat is real and it could affect an industry which benefits millions of families, mostly small backyard farmers, who raises 15-million heads of hogs every year,” wrote Piñol in his Facebook account.
As such, he urged Filipinos to buy locally produced pork over imported products. “In the face of the threat of a baffling hog disease which has killed millions of pigs all over the world and whose effect on human health is still unknown, I am appealing to consumers to buy pork and pork-based products produced by local farmers,” he wrote.
Better still,” he added, “source your requirements locally, that way you not only protect our local hog industry but you also help lower poverty in the countryside.”
According to Piñol, the Philippines stands out as one of the few countries in the world which is free from animal diseases like the foot-and-mouth disease and ASF. He feared the once ASF enter the country, the pig industry will greatly be affected.
ASF is caused by a unique virus which is distinct from that of classical swine fever and which infects only domestic and wild pigs and a variety of soft bodied ticks. The virus, endemic in Africa, circulates between warthogs and the soft bodied ticks which inhabit their burrows, according to the website, thepigsite.com. The ticks transmit it through all stages of their life cycle and perpetuate it.
“ASF virus is relatively tough and can survive in the environment and in pig carcasses for a long time,” thepigsite.com states. “Curing and smoking pork products does not destroy it. Its main method of spread from country to country is via waste uncooked pork products fed to pigs.
It adds: “Its spread between herds within a country is by direct and, to a lesser extent, indirect contact between pigs. Indirect contact usually involves contamination from dead pig tissues and secretions.”
Humans are not susceptible to the disease. “The typical signs of African swine fever are similar to classical swine fever, and the two diseases normally have to be distinguished by laboratory diagnosis,” the website of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) explains.
Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, lack of energy, abortions, internal bleeding, with hemorrhages visible on the ears and flanks. Sudden death may occur. Severe strains of the virus are generally fatal (death occurs within 10 days). Animals infected with mild strains of African swine fever virus may not show typical clinical signs.
The agriculture department said ASF is not a zoonotic disease. But still, it urged Filipino swine raisers to strengthen and strictly implement farm biosecurity measures.
“The public is enjoined to support the government’s efforts by reporting to veterinary authorities any unusual pig mortalities, pork smuggling activities or meat items hand-carried by travelers from affected countries,” the DA technical advisory said.