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Dogs guard airports to keep ASF in check

Agri chief seeks luggage inspection

The Department of Agriculture has started sending trained sniffing dogs to airport terminals to prevent the entry of meat contaminated with African swine fever. 

Dogs guard airports to keep ASF in check
LAST RITES. Vietnamese officials, in this photograph taken on May 27, 2019, are spraying disinfectant on a dead porker at a farm in the capital Hanoi before burying it in an isolated quarantined pit in efforts to stop the spread of African swine fever. Millions of pigs have been killed as ASF has cut through China and beyond. AFP
On Tuesday, Secretary Emmanuel Piñol made a surprise visit to quarantine personnel at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2 and came with sniffing canines.

Piñol inspected and observed how his men from the Bureau of Animal Industry handled the monitoring of luggage of incoming passengers from countries affected by ASF.

He said he would provide some 45 meat sniffing dogs in major airports in the country to prevent the entry of fresh, frozen, cooked or uncooked animal meat and its processed meat coming from the affected regions.

Piñol said the entry of different plants and soil without a phyto-sanitary permit are also not acceptable and he alerted fisheries personnel to be more alert on the smuggling of endangered species.

He directed quarantine officials and personnel to be more vigilant and coordinate closely with the Bureau of Customs personnel who will help determine which pieces of luggage contain meat and meat products through their X-ray machines.

“The ASF threat is real, we have to protect our farmers from virus like this,” said Piñol.

Sniffing dogs are now seen roaming airport terminals to detect contaminated or unsafe meat inside the luggage of arriving air travelers.

BAI director Ronnie Domingo said they are going to ask passengers to surrender the meat they would be bringing in into the country or face penalties.

If caught, violators of the meat quarantine protocol are liable for penalties of P50,000 or up to P200,000.

Imported meat products will be allowed in the country if the importers have secured phyto-sanitary permit from the port of origin, otherwise, the meat will be confiscated, and will be condemned.

The prohibitions extended to bringing in plant and animal products without sanitary and phyto-sanitary permits.

In September and October last year, cases of pork meat products contamination were recorded in Korea and Japan through dumplings and hotdogs products.

BAI said an outbreak of the virus can affect the 40 million plus live hogs or pigs in the Philippines and can destroy the P2-billion swine industry.

To safeguard against the epidemic, BAI personnel and Port of NAIA officials initiated briefings and information dissemination to Customs NAIA frontliners of Terminals 1, 2 and 3 to strengthen the vigilance against the African swine fever.

Port authorities in Subic Bay, meanwhile, have confiscated some P600,000 worth of meat products that recently arrived from China, one of the countries affected by ASF.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chairman Wilma T. Eisma said the meat shipment was seized after authorities learned it was shipped from Guangzhou, China.

“It was immediately flagged by the quarantine officer from the Department of Agriculture, and then the Bureau of Customs confiscated the shipment,” Eisma said.

She said the confiscated meat will be immediately destroyed, as recommended by the Bureau of Quarantine Services, with the Bureau of Animal Industry disposing of it at the expense of the consignee.

Eisma said the Port of Subic has been on the lookout for pork products after the government called for strict monitoring in all ports to prevent the entry into the country of pork products contaminated with ASF.

Jerome Martinez, manager of the SBMA Seaport Department, said the Chinese meat products were shipped in a refrigerated van aboard MV Hansa Altenburg, a container ship that arrived in Subic on May 27.

The container van was declared to contain 2,385 packages of “food items” that were consigned to a trading corporation based in Makati City.

Martinez said the meat shipment had a dutiable value of P591,817.90.

He added that the confiscated meat will be injected with chemicals and then buried underground.

The World Organization for Animal health (OIE) has declared ASF to be a highly-contagious hemorrhagic viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs.

Experts say that while ASF and classical swine fever (CSF) may have similar signs, the ASF virus is unrelated to the CSF virus.

The Food and Drug Administration last week ordered the recall and seizure of imported pork meat products from countries suspected to be affected by the ASF virus.

These are China, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Zambia, South Africa, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Mongolia, Moldova, and Belgium.

In Vietnam, millions of pigs have been culled as African swine fever cuts through China and beyond, devastating global food chains, with pork prices expected to soar from the food markets of Hong Kong to American dinner tables.

Outbreaks have been reported in Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and China—the world’s biggest pork producer and consumer.

Experts warn it could take years to contain the hog-killing virus given the differing biosecurity standards on commercial pig farms and backyard smallholdings across Asia.

Checkpoints, sniffer dogs and strict import bans have been deployed in a desperate bid to control its spread.

But the disease has already hit most provinces in China, reducing pork production by 30 percent according to some estimates.

Beijing’s official statistics say around 1million pigs have been killed since the first outbreak in August last year—but that is widely considered to be an underestimate.

Live pig prices are up by around 40 percent year-on-year in China, and pork imports from Europe, Canada and Brazil into the country are climbing.

Beef and poultry exports are also on the rise as suppliers scramble to fill the deficit in a region where pork is the staple protein—fried, grilled, boiled and eaten by tens of millions each day in noodle bowls and rice dishes.

Some Asian consumers have already started paying more for pork.

And America is also soon expected to feel the pinch—likely around Christmas when people buy holiday hams.

“The price impact will be sizable,” said Christine McCracken, senior animal protein analyst at Rabobank, speaking from the US.

She estimates that 200 million pigs could be culled in China—more than half the swine population in the country, which supplies around 50 percent of the world’s pork.

Losing that many pigs could cause global pork supplies to dip by eight percent, McCracken said.

Nguyen Van Duoc poured his life savings into raising pigs, one of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese smallholder farmers bearing the brunt of the virus, which is not infectious in humans but has no cure or vaccine.

His herd of 36 was culled after swine fever was detected at his backyard farm on the outskirts of Hanoi.

“Our family is devastated,” said Duoc, who borrowed thousands of dollars to get started.

“We relied on income from the pigs for my kids’ schooling,” the 50-year-old said after his animals were killed and dumped into a burial pit.

Along with China, Vietnam has been the worst hit by swine fever, but the country exports very little of its pork. 

Since its first case in February, Vietnam has culled an estimated 2 million pigs—over six percent of the total population—and has set up screening stations along some borders.

South Korea, Japan and Taiwan have also all stepped up airport screening after ASF was brought in by travelers carrying contaminated sausages, although no pigs have been infected so far.

All three countries have bumped up fines for smuggling in pork products—up to $8,400 in South Korea—and Japan has deployed sniffer dogs and quarantine stations at major airports.

“We’re trying to crack down on all possible routes,” said an animal hygiene official at Japan’s agriculture ministry, declining to be named.

North Korea, Cambodia, Hong Kong and Mongolia have all reported cases this year, along with Romania, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia.

The outbreak has sparked calls to boost biosecurity in Asia, where most pigs are raised in backyard farms and fed food scraps—ideal virus vectors.

“It’s spreading like wildfire in Asia because... the pig is the garbage truck of Asia,” said Simon Quilty, an independent meat and livestock analyst based in Australia.

Experts predict it could take anywhere from two to 10 years for the virus to be fully contained in Asia, while fears are mounting of a global scourge embedding in farms with poor biosecurity standards and wild boar populations.

“When a virus becomes endemic like that, we’re going to be living with this forever,” Matthew Stone, deputy director-general at the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said.

That will hammer the pork industry and spin-off sectors such as the soybean business used for animal feed, Stone said, warning of “significant uncertainty” in global markets for years to come.

As the virus cuts through Asia, pork imports into China have soared—shipments from the EU alone are up 20 to 30 percent, according to McCracken.

But global supplies are not enough to plug the huge gap.

That has opened unexpected opportunities elsewhere.

Global poultry production is expected to rise three percent this year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Australia’s cattle farmers are also eyeing the Chinese market.

But even those chicken and beef stopgaps might not be enough to feed China’s pork-hungry population.

“There isn’t enough global pork available to China directly, nor is there enough other protein,” McCracken said.

That will deepen the misery for Chinese diners already feeling a price squeeze—as well as customers in its main exports markets like Hong Kong where the cost of imported pork has more than doubled.

At a busy Hong Kong market, butcher Woo said customers can no longer afford to buy as much pork.

“I’ve reduced supplies from two to one pig a day now,” he said. With AFP

READ: Pork meat recall ordered

READ: Local meat products remain ASF-free

READ: Dogs set out vs. African swine flu

Topics: Department of Agriculture , dogs , African swine fever , Emmanuel Piñol , Bureau of Animal Industry , Bureau of Customs
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