Villafuerte says vax drive vs ASF to reinvigorate hog industry

May 30, 2024 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 154 views

AS a government technical working group (TWG) girds up for the rollout of imported vaccines to fend off the further spread of the African Swine Fever (ASF), Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. LRay Villafuerte is bullish that this upcoming inoculation program will finally arrest the large-scale deaths of pigs and reinvigorate the ASF-plagued local hog industry.

“The anti-ASF vaccine rollout, as announced by President Marcos no less in May and which the TWG on Vaccination against ASF is set to carry out soon, is expected to put an end to ASF-related deaths of locally grown pigs, thereby stabilizing the hog population, stanching the multibillion-peso annual losses in this livestock subsector, and eventually pulling down the retail prices of pork products that have unduly spiralled ever since this deadly virus struck the country in 2019,” Villafuerte, National Unity Party (NUP) president, said.

He said the vaccine rollout that the DA’s TWG on Vaccination against ASF is set to kick off this June or July, as announced by the President himself, is expected to “reinvigorate” the local hog industry, which “continues to reel from a pork supply shortfall and the consequent market price spike despite the numerous policy measures that the DA (Department of Agriculture) and its BAI (Bureau of Animal Industry) have initiated in recent years to repopulate the domestic pig population in the face of recurring ASF outbreaks nationwide.

An animal disease with an almost 100% fatality rate for infected pigs and boars, the ASF surfaced in Asia in 2018 and then hit the Philippines in 2019, leading to a 50% drop in the domestic swine population from 13 million head pre-ASF to 6.6 million head in 2021.

The domestic pork inventory has continued to fall in the absence of a vaccine drive, with data from the DA-attached National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) showing that nationwide stocks in cold storage facilities total 50,658 metric tons (MT) in mid-May 2024 or a fourth lower than last year’s 67,359 MT.

Figures from the NMIS revealed that a chunk of the inventory during the period consisted of imports at 49,899 MT. This was lower than the 64,214 MT in the previous year.

NMIS data showed, too, that pork stocks from local raisers fell to 758 MT, from 3,145 MT, as the ASF continued to affect domestic output.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), meanwhile, showed that the seasonally adjusted value of livestock output fell 1.8% in the year’s first quarter, with “hog as the top contributor to the contraction in the value of production during the first three months of 2024.”

Because of the continued supply shortfall, pork prices have jumped from the previous average of P250 a kilo in the market to the current P400 and above.

The Philippines is the world’s tenth-largest consumer, eighth biggest producer and seventh largest importer of pork, said Villafuerte.

Villafuerte has renewed his appeal to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to speed up its registration process for the chosen imported vaccine brand from Vietnam to make sure that the DA’s TWG is ready and able to carry out an inoculation drive nationwide this June or July, as President Marcos no less announced at a hog industry event last May.

For Villafuerte, “There is no reason for FDA officials to take their own sweet time in accrediting the BAI-endorsed imported vaccine from Vietnam and allowing its commercial use, given that they had been fast enough in registering the imported vaccines that were used in our anti-Covid drive at the height of the pandemic.”

“Now that President Marcos himself has announced the vaccine rollout this June or July, it behooves the FDA to pull out all the stops in its registration of the imported vaccine earlier endorsed by the BAI, in time for the TWG to roll out its mass inoculation drive for local hogs in a month or two—based on our Chief Executive’s timeline,” Villafuerte said.

“It would be a serious setback for the government-hoped recovery of the ASF-plagued hog industry if the mass vaccination program is not able to proceed as set by the President just because FDA officials had opted to sit on their hands instead of giving a timely go-ahead to the registration of the needed vaccine for the rollout,” he said.

According to media reports, the BAI has been working closely with the FDA on speeding up the approval process for the vaccine against ASF.

The CamSur legislator has introduced twin House resolutions (HRs) urging the bigger chamber to: (1) look into the extent of damages caused by ASF to the hog industry, and help the government draw up “more proactive measures and effective responses” to help this livestock subsector, and (2) ensure that the DA and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) prioritize the acquisition of the imported vaccines against ASF.

Villafuerte said in the two resolutions that, “The ASF vaccine is projected to reinvigorate and sustain the local and international market for quality pork and pork products, lower local pork prices and avoid further loss of livelihood.”

Hence, he said, “There is a need for a more aggressive response to ASF such as the procurement and implementation of vaccines that have already been developed for safe and effective use in Vietnam and being studied in other countries.”

In HR No. 771, Villafuerte noted that despite the repopulation efforts of the government, as the disease spread throughout the Philippines from 2019 to the present, industry losses have been estimated by a DA executive at $20 million or over P1 billion each month.

This necessitates an inquiry by the House committee on agriculture and food into “the socio-economic and livelihood impact and extent of damages of the prolonged ASF outbreak in the Philippines to create more proactive measures and effective responses to the problem,” said the congressman in HR 771.

In the complementary HR 772, meanwhile, Villafuerte urged the DA and DBM “to prioritize the acquisition of vaccines to address the ongoing ASF crisis in the Philippines.”

“The loss of pork production in small backyard holdings, which account for 72.1% of the total swine population, has ensured the incapacitation of families who rely primarily on pork for both their livelihood and nutrition,” he said in HR 772.

Villafuerte said this deadly disease has devastated local industry players, especially the backyard raisers that account for a majority of local output, but in the absence of an anti-ASF vaccine, these affected stakeholders have been hesitant to invest money in repopulating their farms or backyards for fear of future ASF outbreaks.

He recalled in HR 771 that ASF was first recorded in Kenya in 1921 and then spread to several sub-Saharan African countries, but remained on the African Continent until 1957.

The ASF reached Portugal and then to other parts of Europe in 1957, but remained in that part of the world for decades.

This disease was first detected in Asia in 2018, when outbreaks ocurred in China. It spread elsewhere later, with the first outbreaks in the Philippines listed in 2019.

In HR 771, Villafuerte said that: “The Philippine government resorted to several preventive measures that include massive information dissemination campaign, confiscation of pork products from countries infected with ASF, reporting system for ASF symptoms and suspicions, implementation of quarantine and disinfection mechanisms and constant monitoring of slaughterhouses and markets … zoning plans have (likewise) been in place since 2020” that limited trading to certain areas of the country.

The TWG against ASF was created at the DA last year to carry out an anti-ASF immunization drive in the event of vaccine availability.

Earlier, the FDA confirmed that the BAI had applied for certification of the Avac vaccine against ASF that is produced in Vietnam.

Villafuerte said, “The FDA needs to be on track with its registration and accreditation process for the Vietnamese-made vaccine because the implementation of an immunization drive by the DA-attached BAI is contingent on the availability of this anti-ASF drug, which, in turn, will depend on when our food and drug administration can give its go-signal to the commercial use of these shots for our local hogs.”

He proposed to the DA to do the following:

· Declare a state of calamity in ASF-struck areas, so calamity or quick response funds can be accessed at once for the planned immunization drive; and

· Subsidize 100% of the cost of the shots for backyard raisers, who make up the bulk of local hog growers and who are still reeling from the adverse impact on their small enterprises of this deadly animal disease.

The BAI has confirmed outbreaks of this lethal virus in 5,324 barangays in 73 provinces in 17 regions over the last five years.

As of mid-May, there were active ASF cases in 78 barangays in 18 municipalities in 11 provinces in seven regions.