AFRICAN SWINE FEVER A THREAT TO P191-BILLION HOG INDUSTRY

The swine production is a whopping P191-billion industry, the largest among the livestock and poultry industries in the Philippines.  But there’s a looming threat to it in the form of African swine fever (ASF).

“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 Emmanuel Piñol in his social media account when he was still the secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).

So much so that when there was a reported “abnormal swine deaths in backyard farms” in Rizal and Bulacan provinces, according to Taiwanese intelligence, it created quite a stir in the livestock industry.

As a response, the agriculture department “immediately ordered the investigation of affected farms and collection of blood samples.”

According to affected backyard swine farmers, the pigs showed loss of appetite, recumbency, vomiting, skin hemorrhages, dark discoloration in the extremities, and sudden death.

“Several diseases can be associated with said clinical signs,” experts from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) said in a daily bulletin issued by the agriculture department.  As such, “further confirmation is needed from a recognized foreign reference laboratory in Europe.”

It may take two weeks or three months before the results could be obtained.  “We are waiting for final confirmation before we explain things to avoid panic,” BAI director Ronnie Domingo told Manila reporters.

“We don’t have ASF yet in the Philippines,” assured Dr. William Dar, the new agriculture secretary, in a press conference held in Davao City recently.

In an earlier television interview, Dar said that the mass death of pigs in Luzon was not caused by ASF.  “It is a virus, but no name yet,” he was quoted as saying.  “I came from the science and development world, you have to be properly informed to make good decisions.”

An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so goes a saying.  So, while waiting for the results, the agriculture department is doing the 1-7-10 principle to control the spread of any animal disease in an area known to have the disease infection.

The 1-7-10 principle has these features:

· One kilometer radius, also known as quarantine zone, is an area set to contain infection within one-kilometer radius from the affected farm by limiting animal movement and employing mandatory test and destruction of all infected animals.

·  Seven kilometer radius, or what is called as surveillance zone, is an area set within 7-kilometet radius intended to detect the extent of the infection through surveillance activities, disease reporting and limit the movement of live animals, animal products and by-products movement.  Every movement outside this zone needs the required documents such as veterinary health certificates and shipping permits.

· Ten kilometer radius is the control zone.  Here, an area set at 10-kilometer radius intended to detect infection at an early stage through mandatory disease reporting.

ASF is a viral disease of pigs and wild boar that is usually deadly; mortality rates are high as 100 percent.  Unfortunately, there are still no vaccines available to treat the disease; even worse is that it cannot be cured.  “For this reason, it has serious socio-economic consequences in affected countries,” the website of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) warned.

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,” 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.  ASF is endemic in subSaharan 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.  

In recent months, however, the disease is already affecting the pig herds in some Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.  Because of this, Filipino swine raisers are advised to strengthen and strictly implement farm biosecurity measures.

“We strongly require that movement and trade of live animals, meat and processed products can be accompanied with appropriate veterinary health certificate, shipping permit and meat inspection certificate,” the agriculture department bulletin urged.

“Let us all help the swine industry by reporting any unusual swine mortalities in your area to the nearest government veterinary offices so that immediate action can be undertaken,” it added.

As of July 1, 2019, the Philippines is home to 12.70 million heads of swine, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).  Among the regions, Central Luzon recorded the highest inventory of 2.21 million heads.  This was followed by CALABARZON and Western Visayas with stocks of 1.53 million heads and 1.23 million heads, respectively.

“The combined stocks of these three regions accounted for 39.1% of the country’s total swine inventory,” the PSA said.

About 71% of the swine population are raised in backyard farms while 29% are in commercial farms.  

In almost every rural household in the country, swine raising is a very popular enterprise, according to Jethro P. Adang, the director of the Davao-based Mindanao Baptist Rural Life Center (MBRLC) Foundation, Inc.

After all, no other backyard animal has the same versatility as the swine.  In the past, a farm family almost always invested their wealth in a pig.   After all, out from pigs you can get pork, bacon, and sausage.  They also acted as refuse bin, eating all the scraps and family’s leftovers.  When asked if the head of the family has any money, the usual reply is: “I don’t have.  All my money is in the pig.”

When people stopped raising pigs, they made a replica where they could “put their money in.”  In the time, the practice of saving money in a pig came into existence and was called as “piggy bank.”

Filipinos have been eating pork since time immemorial.  “The Philippines, before it was even called the Philippines, has always favored pork,” wrote Gela Velasco, author of an article, The History of Meat in the Philippines: Why Our Markets Carry Chicken, Beef and Pork but Not Horse or Crocodile

“Pig meat was often raised as offerings to the gods to curry their favor,” Velasco further wrote.  “Pigs are also considered indigenous to our lands, with the Tagalog word ‘baboy’ also having variations in the Indonesian ‘babi’ and ‘bawi’ in Malayan.  The existence of these similar words in neighboring countries is important because they confirm that pig was a pre-colonial food source in Southeast Asia.”

A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said that an average Filipino consumes about 14.2 kilograms of pork (2 kilograms more than the world’s average pork consumption).

Despite being almost exclusively without government subsidy, the swine industry is the second leading contributor to Philippine agriculture – after rice.  A position paper said: “The strong growth in demand for pork has the potential to increase income opportunities and alleviate poverty among rural and agricultural households in the Philippines, where rural poverty remains high.”

Although swine raising is a profitable venture, there are still other problems that beset the industry.  

“Despite being dynamic and technologically advanced, the local pig industry is still confronted with inefficiency of production due to low sow productivity, high mortality due to inefficient diagnostic tool, and lack of native pig genetic resource conservation, improvement and utilization initiative,” said a position paper circulated by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Aquatic Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

But still there is a bright future for swine industry.  A position paper obtained by this author stated: “The strong growth in demand for pork has the potential to increase income opportunities and alleviate poverty among rural and agricultural households in the Philippines, where rural poverty remains high.” – ###