THE Philippines yesterday reported its first cases of African swine fever, becoming the latest country hit by the disease that has killed pigs from Slovakia to China, pushing up pork prices worldwide.
The virus is not harmful to humans but causes hemorrhagic fever in pigs that almost always ends in death.
There is no antidote or vaccine and the only known method to prevent the disease from spreading is a mass cull of affected livestock.
Infected pigs were found in two towns near the Philippine capital Manila and authorities have culled more than 7,000 pigs within a one-kilometre (0.6-mile) radius, said Agriculture Secretary William Dar.
He said the nation was not facing an epidemic and urged Filipinos to continue eating pork, which is a critical market and accounts for 60 percent of meat consumption in the Philippines.
The Asian country is the world’s 8th biggest pork producer by volume and its swine industry is estimated at P260 billion ($5 billion), according to the agriculture department.
Dar said 14 of 20 samples sent to a UK laboratory tested positive for African swine fever, but it will take another week to confirm how virulent the strain is.
The virus was first recorded in Rodriguez town, Rizal. Other undisclosed areas are still being closely monitored for possible infection, he added.
“We have never been in an epidemic, just to highlight that. We are responding to the increased number of deaths of pigs,” Dar said.
Authorities suspect the swine fever cases stemmed from backyard hog raisers who feed pigs “swill”, leftover food scraps from hotels and restaurants.
The agriculture department added the virus could also be traced to smuggled frozen meat and returning overseas Filipino workers who brought back infected meat products.
In May the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization said pork prices had “begun to soar”, rising by up to 50 percent both in China and on the Chicago futures exchange.
Safe to eat
DA Secretary Dar and Health chief Francisco Duque assured the public that pork and pork products are still safe to eat.
Dar and Duque made the assurance after partaking of different pork dishes at a boodle fight shared by DA and DOH officials, hog stakeholders and members of the private sector.
Dar stressed that as long as the hogs passed through the proper process of slaughtering and preparation, the public should not fear eating pork.
He added that before slaughtering, a hog is validated and assessed by a veterinarian, who then issues a medical certificate.
“Once slaughtered, the meats are stamped with a seal from the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS), assuring that it has passed the food safety measures imposed by the government,” Dar added.
For his part, Duque declared that local meat does not pose a threat to human health and as long as it is prepared and cooked properly, it is safe for human consumption.
However consumers were advised to remain vigilant when buying meat and meat products and always look for the “NMIS” seal as a guarantee of uncontaminated pork.
With Cory Martinez