MANILA, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- Josephine Evenglista is a small-time hog riser, based in Payatas, an urban area north of Metro Manila. She and her husband have been raising pigs for 10 years, and the business helped them put food on the table and support the education of their seven children.
But their livelihood is facing a threat. Early in September, the Department of Agriculture confirmed that the contagious African Swine Fever (ASF) virus is slowly spreading and killing pigs in various areas of the country, forcing local governments to cull over 15,000 pigs as of Sept. 23.
The number of affected areas has reportedly climbed to 12, and Payatas is one of them. Evenglista's pigs, she claims, do not have ASF, but had to be killed anyway as part of a protocol to contain the virus.
The government is giving 3,000 pesos (roughly 58 U.S. dollars) in aid for every culled pig. Evenglista said she has not received the money yet, and that the money could not cover all her losses.
Noel Reyes, the agriculture department spokesperson, told Xinhua that the government has contained the virus, and the spread of ASF is considered a relatively small blow to the 5-billion-U.S.-dollar swine industry.
"We only have 15,000 attributed swine deaths in affected areas like Bulacan, Rizal, and Quezon City (on main Luzon island). If we divide that to the 12.7 million total number of hogs in the country, that's less than 1 percent of the industry," he said.
Local government in Cebu and Bohol on the island of the Visayas, the central Philippines, have imposed a blanket ban for live pork and processed pork products coming in from the island of Luzon to protect their swine industries. This led to the disruption of shipments, sending a chilling effect to consumption, despite the virus being only transmissible to pigs and not humans.
The provinces of Davao Oriental and Negros Oriental in the southern Philippines have reportedly expressed an intent to impose the same ban.
Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (PAMPI) has appealed to the government to create a unified ruling on how to handle shipments following a case in Ilocos Sur province where shipments of pork-based products of two famous fast-food chains were blocked at a quarantine checkpoint.
Quarantine checkpoints are part of the enforced protocol of both the national and local governments to contain the virus. In affected areas, checkpoints are set up within a 1-km radius from farms suspected of ASF. Whether infected or not, all pigs within the area are culled. Movement of farm animals within a 7-km radius is also limited and closely monitored.
Despite declaring virus containment, PAMPI stressed that industries linked to hog raising, such as meat production and swine feed manufacturing, suffer a billion-peso worth of loss every single day and that the country is not cleared off the virus. The 10,000 workers who are supposed to be employed for meat production during the Christmas season will not be hired.
In an effort to normalize consumption, the government is intensifying information campaigns to remind the public that ASF is not a health threat to humans and that the pork sold in public markets are inspected thoroughly by the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS).
"We understand that the images of culled pigs might scare the public but we assure them that ASF is not transmissible to humans. They can, however, be carriers. The culling or stamping out of the pigs is an internationally-recognized effective method to stop the spreading of the virus," Rieldrin Morales of the NMIS said.
Meanwhile, the PAMPI projects that pork-based products sold in fast-food restaurants will start to dwindle in the coming weeks, a huge setback to the world's 10th largest pork consumer.