African Swine Fever in the Philippines Affects Pork Production

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SUISUN CITY, California — African Swine Fever (ASF) is a deadly and contagious disease that has been lowering pork production, devastating peoples’ incomes and causing malnutrition. It has spread across continents from Africa to Europe, and most recently, to Asia and Southeast Asia. This is most devastating to the continent, which produced 60% of the world’s pork, according to an interview with Dr. Gregorio Torres from the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health). This disease affects all wild and domestic pigs. Though ASF does not spread to humans, it has killed pigs used in backyard and commercial farms throughout the globe. Specifically, African Swine Fever in the Philippines has become a threat to more and more regions. As of July 2019, ASF has spread to Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Luzon and Mindanao, according to the U.N. The Philippines government has worked with farmers and producers to stem the spread of the disease.

African Swine Fever in the Philippines

The effects of African swine fever are already appearing as losses in the Philippines’ farms. As the disease spread throughout the Philippines from 2019 to 2021, the area lost nearly $20 million a month. Both pork and chicken are the top consumed meats, but pork is the top consumed meat in the country. In 2020, the average Philippines citizen ate 14.9 kilograms of pork compared to 13.74 kilograms of chicken. Many Filipino dishes use pork for primary protein.

In 2021, African Swine Fever in the Philippines has increased the risk for poverty for many households after the disease killed pig deaths nationwide. The Borgen Project interviewed Dr. Torres about the situation. Dr. Torres said that the socioeconomic impact of the devastating disease “is probably something… we haven’t really seen… in our generation”. He said that today it is “one of the most important animal health crises” due to the great social impact on humans.

Small-Scale, Backyard Farming

The loss of pork production in small backyard holdings has ensured the incapacitation of families who rely primarily on pork for both their livelihood and nutrition. Dr. Torres said that the high mortality “is having a devastating effect on the livelihoods of people.”

According to the University of the Philippines’s Department of Economics and Management, backyard raisers are defined as farms with 10-20 pigs and 20-40 piglets while commercial farms are those with anywhere from 21 to 99 pigs. There are many backyard raisers distributed throughout the country without as much government regulation. This has made it more difficult for the government to implement zoning and other strategies to control African Swine Fever in the Philippines.

Small backyard holdings are the sources for most pork sold in countries like the Philippines, so the loss of pork hits small farmers most directly. Many people throughout the Philippines raise hogs as a small business to sell at wet markets. Selling pork raised at one’s residence is a popular, profitable way for Philippines citizens to make a living. With sick pigs bearing symptoms such as lesions in the spleen, liver and kidneys, the value of the pork decreases, reducing local farmers’ income.

Beyond this, one of the hallmarks of the disease is a sudden increase in pig deaths at a given farm. ASF is contagious and has a high level of mortality, making it possible for the disease to wipe out many infected pigs at one time.

The Impact of ASF Locally and Globally

Families in small villages who buy from wet markets or raise pigs for their own consumption face malnutrition from the lack of protein because of pig illness and fatalities. In the Philippines, the rise in counterfeit vaccines said to cure ASF has exacerbated the problem. Dr. Torres maintains that there is no cure for ASF and no known, safe vaccine. Still, Philippines farmers and producers are using the vaccines as a way to supposedly quickly reinforce their profits. Dr. Torres said that new strains are emerging perhaps due to the use of dangerous vaccines and that directing attention and effort towards anticipating shifts in the strains may mitigate these harmful changes.

Other than the negative impact on local farmers’ livelihoods, prices on pork, chicken and beef have increased with the global change in value due to a new scarcity of pork. This has drastically reduced the accessibility to the protein of any kind for rural communities. According to Dr. Torres, the disease has had an enormous “butterfly effect” on commercial trade. It reduced imports of foods due to the increase in the global value of meats. Indeed, in July 2020, the cost of pork was PHP 250 ($5.20); whereas, in January 2021, prices of pork had risen to PHP 400 ($8.30). That is almost the price workers earn per day in Manila.

Overcoming ASF in Europe

Two countries in Europe have successfully overcome the struggle with ASF: the Czech Republic and Belgium. While there is no vaccine for ASF, implementing the various risk management efforts helped European countries to surmount the odds. The OIE standards recommend risk management involving such tactics as zoning or geographic separation of pigs to avoid contamination; compartmentalization and the creation of a “bubble” of the production of safe pigs for the continuity of business and biosecurity and the close regulation of the movement of livestock to prevent infection. Additionally, standards advise limiting human travel to limit the spread of ASF among pig populations.

Fighting African Swine Fever in the Philippines

Fortunately, the Philippines is putting up a strong fight against ASF. Dr. Torres said that the Philippines has done a good job thus far with strong veterinary services on the frontlines. The Philippines Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC) is one government organization making efforts to prevent the disease’s spread.

The PCIC created regulations guaranteeing free, government-issued crop insurance, offering PHP 10,000 ($206) per pig killed by ASF, provided that farmers and producers are listed in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture. Also, the Philippines government has lowered the cost of the insurance subsidies to be P225 ($4.64) a month.

Other attempts at resolving African swine fever in the Philippines include hog lanes according to zoning plans and price capping. The Philippines zoning plans have been in place since 2020, only certain areas of the country can trade with the rest of the country. The zoning will identify and restrict areas of infection. These areas cannot trade to stem the infection of ASF from pig to pig.

Another measure in effect is price capping. In the National Capital Region of the Philippines, President Duterte signed Executive Order 124, employing price capping in February 2021 to mitigate chicken and pork prices, which rose 50-275% from Jan 2020 to Jan 2021. Price ceilings of PHP 270 ($5.55) for pork shoulder and leg of pork and PHP 300 ($6.16) for pork belly are in place.

Education and Awareness

Though price capping has been criticized by groups like Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) to be ineffective, private companies like Cargill Philippines have taken it upon themselves to educate the Philippines public on biosafety measures to prevent the ASF spread.

In March 2021, Cargill spoke to Manila Times about its intention to spread awareness about biosafety measures like providing pigs with clean feed and exercising care when handling livestock since people are the main way that the disease spreads. Cargill Philippines has been involved with the ASF education campaign since November 2020 when they began Cargill 360 Protection to provide services to farms in need of better protection against ASF.

Dr. Torres lastly wanted to reassert that the United Nation’s discussions and the “coordination of communities and sectors” have been an available resource for Southeast Asian countries as well as others around the globe. While the brunt of responsibility to fight ASF lies in each country, there is a global response to the disease. African Swine Fever in the Philippines is a prominent and urgent matter demanding biosecurity, segregation and compartmentalization measures to prevent further spread.

Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Flickr

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