Philippine Producers Demand Pork Import Bans

THE PHILIPPINES - The Philippines hog sector has urged the government to ban pork imports from China, Vietnam, and Cambodia in order to prevent the spread of the highly-destructive swine-flu known as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS).
calendar icon 29 July 2008
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The NFHFI (The National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc.) is pressing the government to impose a ban on importing pork from the three countries which would totally bar entry of the hog products locally.

While the Philippines does not presently import pork from China because of its own pork shortage, a ban will be a stricter prohibition to the entry of pork should a softening of price occurs in China’s domestic market, says the Manila Bulletin.

"If we have a ban, that will be a deterrent even to smuggling. (At present), if they want to export to us, we don’t have a policy banning the import," NFHFI Vice Chairman Renato R. Eleria said in a press briefing.

PRRS may not be a "notifiable" disease under the meat quarantine system of the Office International des Epizooties (OIE).

A notifiable disease is one that is considered considered "explosive" - similar to bird flu or foot and mouth disease. Unlike bird flu, which is a zoonotic disease or one that can also infect humans, PRRS is transferable only among animals, says to Dr. Cesar D. Ballesteros of ProTech Veterinary Consultants and Livestock Supply.

However, PRRS had a severe impact of wiping out 50 percent of the country’s swine breeding population last year.

"Allowing the entry of pork imports from these countries would further expose the local hog industry to this strain of virus and pose a serious health to our people," said the NFHFI in a letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Arthur C. Yap.

Worse about the hog situation (compared to the poultry sector when it was hit by a low-pathogenic bird flu strain) is that many more small, backyard farmers depend on the industry as their means of livelihood.

Backyard farmers represent around 70 percent of total hog production in the country and a smaller 30 percent is produced by big commercial farms.

The hog producers believe BAI (Bureau of Animal Industry) should invest in an Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory which is a longer-term solution to disease infestation.

"We always resort to stop-gap measures, but we should have a long-term solution. And having our own diagnostic laboratory will do that," said Ballesteros.

Eleria said having its own diagnostic laboratory will keep the Philippines from being "in the dark" about diseases.

A device on polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or gene sequencing test which can indicate the presence of the virus on the animal should be acquired by BAI. Cost of equipment like these, however, may reach to $ 2 million.

Thailand has sufficient diagnostic device that enabled it to control the epidemic diarrhea.

"Thailand has been able to identify that the epidemic diarrhea virus came from China while we could only suspect then that ours came from Korea," said Ballesteros.

As a result of the destructiveness of PRRS, one hog company, JSR Hog Farms, has experienced a heftily cut-down number of monthly sows that normally go through artificial insemination (AI) from JSR. JSR is a company administering AI. Instead of the 1,500 sows it was serving monthly, the number petered off to 500 as numerous sows had died of PRRS.

"It will be very devastating once we have the disease again since we don’t have a vaccine yet. That will surely make the price of pork go up again. We should have a specific vaccine (or cure) for the specific sub-type infecting us, not a general type of vaccine.," said JSR Hog Farms Association President Alex M. Reyes.

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