Tighter controls on pork price eyed; wage hike ruled out

The government is considering a price cap on pork amid rising food prices, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said Sunday.

In an interview over radio dzBB, Nograles, chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Zero Hunger, said the Department of Agriculture (DA) is currently studying the possibility of imposing stricter price measures in public markets since the country is still under a state of public health emergency.

The last time a price freeze was imposed was in November last year, following the declaration of a state of calamity in Luzon in the wake of Typhoon Ulysses.

Nograles admitted that the government is also grappling with African swine fever (ASF), which continues to pull down pork supply while jacking up its prices.

So far, Nograles said, the DA has encouraged shipping pork from ASF-free areas in Visayas and Mindanao to areas experiencing high inflation.

“They’re finding ways to get supply from areas with no ASF and bringing them to the market, especially in urban areas like Metro Manila, to stabilize the prices of pork,” he said in Filipino.

To address soaring prices of vegetables, Nograles said that there is also a need to increase accessibility and supply by boosting the campaign to promote community gardening and urban gardening.

Meanwhile, Nograles emphasized the need to prioritize programs to reduce the incidence of hunger by half this year.

A recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that families who experienced involuntary hunger eased to 16 percent in November 2020 from the record-high of 30.7 reported in September 2020.

“Our target is to bring the hunger incidence rate back to 8 percent or 8.7, 8.8 percent because we were able to do this in the last quarter of 2019 before COVID,” he said.

Nograles said the National Food Policy will help ensure food security by supporting farmers and fishermen by increasing their productivity and income.

He also noted that it was just as important to lower the country’s current unemployment rate.

On the other hand, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) said now was not the time to increase wages, given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses.

In a Dobol B sa News TV interview, ECOP president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr. said businesses were facing losses and possible closure due to the pandemic's fallout.

“Ninety percent of these are micro-enterprises. Half of them have closed and the others are thinking of closing or having a difficult time,” Ortiz-Luis said in Filipino.

Also on Sunday, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, urged the Department of Agriculture to strengthen the “Plant, Plant, Plant” program and to ensure that the production and transport of food remains unhampered.

Salceda, also the co-chairman of the House economic recovery cluster, warned that while December prices met the government’s 2 percent-4 percent inflation target, the impact of higher prices of food on the poorest segments of the population may not be appearing in statistics.

“Inflation hits everyone differently so I do not take kindly the dismissive remarks that this is just ‘temporary.’ The poorest third of our population spends 60 percent of their income on food, so food inflation hits them harder than wealthier segments,” he said.

Sufficient and affordable food supply would accelerate economic recovery, while elevated prices would slow down economic performance, he said.

“Food is everything for economic recovery. If food continues to be expensive, wages will have to be elevated. Our competitiveness as an industrial location will suffer. We have to keep food prices cheap by keeping supply enough,” Salceda said.

He also warned the DA to pay attention to prices of fish, saying the prices would likely go up as the natural alternative to higher meat prices.

“I expect fish prices to go up, especially canned fish. So, we will need to watch out for price shocks in this segment of goods as well,” he said.

Topics: Karlo Nograles , Inter-Agency Task Force on Zero Hunger , Department of Agriculture , Joey Salceda , Employers Confederation of the Philippines
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