After three years of being proudly African Swine Fever (ASF) free, the deadly and infectious virus that our government has been unable eliminate or even just control, finally crossed into the borders of Negros Occidental. ASF was positively detected last week in Barangay Taculing of Bacolod City, and recently in Pulupandan.
ASF is harmless to humans, but causes high fever, internal bleeding, and fluid-filled lungs in pigs, killing up to 90% of infected animals. The mortality rate is more like 100%, as those that don’t die due to ASF are usually culled anyway.
Endemic in much of Africa, it spread to Western Europe in the late 1950s but was eliminated by the mid-90s. If you come to think of it, considering that timeline for eradication in Europe, and relating it to quality of the ASF response of the Philippine government, our hog raisers may have to buckle up for a long and agonizing stay in swine raising purgatory.
The virus gradually spread east and was confirmed in China in August 2018, and now, “ASF is everywhere” in Southeast Asia. In China, where most of the infectious diseases that have crippled our country of late most likely came from, officials followed the elimination playbook, culling herds with infected animals, as well as euthanizing pigs within a 3-kilometer zone around infected farms. Farmers were compensated for their losses, but the outbreak reshaped the nation’s pork industry, shifting production to large industrial farms from backyard farming.
Few countries in Southeast Asia can match China’s aggressive response to everything. In the Philippines, where the budget for compensating farmers for their losses due to government policies is not as big as the one for continuously building and breaking concrete roads, all we can do is hope and pray that ASF is not spreading too quickly.
Because ASF is highly contagious and most backyard farms, which are the first and worst affected, hardly practice any biosecurity, we can probably already assume the worst for the P6B Negros Occidental swine industry, especially if our national and local government is not willing to compensate farmers for any culling deemed necessary to control or eliminate the virus.
Early on, even after being given 3 years to prepare, we are already getting mixed signals with regard to the local ASF response. In the Taculing case, Bacolod Mayor Albee Benitez said they will be culling hogs within a 500-meter radius of ground zero. However, in the case of Pulupandan, Governor Bong Lacson apparently said that aside from the infected farm, there will be no other culling, just “observation” within a 500m radius.
Either way, if you are a hog raiser, backyard or otherwise, the only of possibly surviving this threat, now that we are no longer officially ASF-free, is through prayers and biosecurity.
I outlined a few basic biosecurity measures in my previous column, but since we weren’t talking about ASF yet, I left out one of the biggest practices that make most backyard farms highly vulnerable. That is feeding food scraps, especially with pork, to their animals, because it is one of the vectors of ASF. That is why we are not supposed to import cooked pork products from ASF areas, and that common cost-saving practice among backyard raisers is one of the reasons why we are having such a difficult time controlling ASF. Our backyard raisers will have to doing that if we are going to have any chance of controlling or eliminating ASF.
Any government that is serious about protecting an industry valued at P6B should be willing to spend for it. Educating and equipping backyard farms on the basics of biosecurity is one way, and it should’ve been done three years ago, as soon as the ASF threat was identified. However, now that ASF is already here as confirmed by tests, that is still not too late. Additionally, a government that borrows money like there’s no tomorrow really needs to work on fairly compensating farmers for culled stocks. This is important because no backyard hog raiser would report potential ASF cases if government is simply going to swoop in and nuke all the hogs in the area, without any fair compensation for affected farmers.
The way things are, backyard hog raisers feel like they will be punished for reporting any suspect cases, because if it is ASF, a massive cull will deprive everyone in the area of their hogs, with no guarantee of government assistance. Until government can provide some kind of insurance that reporting potential ASF cases will not result in instant financial ruin, nobody will report their sick hogs and the virus will continue to circulate and wreak havoc on the industry that we’ve been able to protect for three years, by closing our borders from pork products and probably sheer luck.
Government officials may try to downplay it, but the confirmation of ASF in our province means that it is here and it is spreading. As we have all seen from past outbreaks, waiting for government to act is not the smartest thing to do. Backyard hog raisers will have to spring into immediate action to put up their own defenses and massively improve the biosecurity measures needed if they expect their piggy banks to survive this onslaught.*