By Vina Medenilla

African Swine Flu (ASF) is a highly contagious disease affecting pigs of any age that can spread through live and deceased hogs. In the Philippines, swine is an important industry as it ranks as the second-largest contributor to Philippine agriculture next to rice, according to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).

“Our message this early is for us is to continue to be united as one team every step of the way,” Department of Agriculture Secretary William Dar said during the International Farmers Summit in SMX Convention Center. Dr. Eugenio Mende of Philippine Veterinary Drug Association (PVDA) said that as of January 13, 2020, 1.7% or 178, 159 of the swine population in the Philippines has been culled and a projected total of 62% will be lost. About 80% from the backyard sector and 30% from the commercial sector will be affected if the spread continues.

Dar said that the 416-billion Peso hog industry, the market supply, and prices will also be affected if everyone does not actively try to eliminate the disease. He challenged veterinarians in the private sector to be vigilant against the spread of ASF and to participate in ways to curb its spread such as by updating the inventory of pig population, educating hog raisers, and enhancing biosecurity measures in eradicating the virus.

Major sources of ASF

According to Dar, the sources of ASF in the Philippines are traders and travelers who bring in food and food waste from ASF-infected countries and swill feeding, or kanin-baboy, which is the biggest contributor.

Mende mentioned that in China, the cause of the spread of ASF is through trucks: many people don’t follow biosecurity measures in disinfecting their transport trucks that travel from farms to slaughterhouses, thereby causing the virus to spread. In the Philippines, hiding infected pigs and not following proper safety protocol is one of the biggest sources of the problem, Dar said. He said that the ASF could be easily controlled by culling the infected pigs. However, there are people who do not comply, thus widening the spread of the virus. The virus isn’t the main problem anymore; the problem now is the sellers of pork or pig meat, Dar said. He added that there are traders who slaughter infected pigs and sell the pork or pork products in other areas, causing the virus to spread, which was the case in Pangasinan and other provinces.

A concern raised by Atty. Irwin Ambal of the Philippine Egg Board Association is that there are hog raisers who don’t volunteer their pigs for culling due to them not receiving compensation for their losses. Dar responded that a Quick Response Fund has been increased from 1 billion to 1.5 billion that can be used to compensate for the culled pigs. He also reminded the local chief executives to strictly monitor hog traders’ sources and trading activities in their respective areas, since this plays a huge part in reducing the spread of the virus.

Swill feed is a major contributor to the spread of ASF that should be strongly avoided by hog raisers. The virus has reached piggeries in Benguet and Mindanao due to swill feed. Thus, officials advised everyone to inform all the hog raisers not to use swill feed in their piggeries, while Dar requested the commercial hog raisers educate other industry players, especially backyard raisers, about the effects and spread of ASF so the virus would be managed accordingly.

The officials discouraged commercial and backyard hog raisers from multiplying their pigs as there is no cure for the virus yet. Dar suggested that the raisers convert to alternative animals for their livelihood such as rabbitry, which can also offer a good source of income.