Whatever the government has done to combat the spread of the African Swine Fever has clearly not been enough, so much so that Secretary William Dar has decided to reshuffle the composition of the team in charge at the Bureau of Animal Industry. Given that we are just starting the year, that could be a good sign, especially since ASF has recently been reported in the Visayas. However, reshuffling people will hardly matter to ASF, which is the equivalent of COVID-19 for pigs. The virus is as virulent, highly communicable and has shown its ability to wipe out an entire industry and seriously impact the economy just like COVID-19. After a year or so of indifference to ASF, the general public is now beginning to discover that they too will pay the price in terms of pork prices more than doubling in the past year.
Much has been said on how to combat the spread of ASF and I have certainly learned so much of the theoretical part from my friends at BMeg who have exerted every effort via social media as well as face to face lectures and consults all over the country to educate hog raisers regarding ASF. However, nothing prepares you for the time when ASF hits your piggery, regardless if you are a backyard raiser or a commercial farm. Nonetheless I am thankful as a journalist to have gone through the experience last December because it gave me so much insight and learning dealing with several BMeg veterinarians as well as local government vets.
Unlike COVID-19 where a vaccine is clearly on the horizon, there is nothing yet for ASF and therefore it is safe to assume that the problem will still be a serious threat for 5, 10 if not 25 years before a vaccine is produced or we somehow eradicate the disease in the country. Given that prospect, allow me to recommend to the authorities that on top of all their efforts, the Department of Agriculture should link up with the DILG to strictly and forcefully require all barangays in the entire country to track, record and enroll all hog raisers, regardless of size and number of heads in their herd. The DA should work with the private sector doing business related to hogs and find ways and means to incentivize hog raisers to enter into a national registry.
Part of this enrollment campaign should be a “meet and greet” your local government veterinarian so people can learn “what’s in it for them.” Many backyard hog raisers don’t know a thing about bio security or how to prevent disease from entering your farms and most of them don’t know about municipal veterinarians and how these DVMs can be of help or assistance to them. Whether it’s pigs or rabid dogs, disease in chickens, etc., many people don’t know there are provincial or municipal veterinarians and offices who are supposed to help in managing and controlling animals in a town or city. If we expect backyard farmers to report diseases or problems in their barangay, the first thing that needs to be done is for provincial, city or municipal animal health offices and veterinarians to go around barangays and introduce themselves and their services. With a registry, vets should regularly visit the piggeries.
Second to a national registry should be a registration for livestock insurance for indemnification in the event of loss due to disease or an outbreak such as ASF for both backyard and commercial piggeries. The DA or Congress should be called upon to initially seed the program that can subsequently collect dues or premiums through a special tax taken from slaughterhouse services or a small percentage from the sale of hogs or pork in specific localities. The current team handling the ASF response should also study a localized system of reporting, processing and releasing indemnification for farms hit by ASF, instead of the current version where the local vets have to collect all the data then submit to the DA and while claims are being processed the LGU, vets in the front line suffer the impatience and abuse of bankrupt hog raisers.
A very critical part in the battle against the spread of ASF is to control the principal suspects behind the spread of the disease: the notorious viajero or middlemen and women who roam around provinces to buy hogs from backyards all over the country. The DA and the DILG and the DTI should form a tripartite policy that will require all viajeros to be licensed and registered with the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Trade & Industry, the local government of concern and the BIR. These viajeros make the most profit out of every hog raised, slaughtered and sold in markets and yet many of them are unregistered tax evaders who leave no address. If we require the registration of individuals for contact tracing for COVID-19, there is no reason why these viajeros should not be required to registered their visits and transactions in every barangay they visit. No excuses, no exemptions if we want to stop the spread of the disease and want to properly collect the government’s fair share of taxes.
Last but not the least is tightening up on the bio security transport of livestock. We barely have any credible and safe manner of transporting livestock. They are placed in jeepneys or open trucks, urine and feces dropping all over the highway to be run over by other motorists and stepped on by people. Is it any wonder that ASF travels all over the country! We push to modernize jeepneys but not livestock transport!
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