PORK SHORTAGE COULD OCCUR in the island in the next few weeks if the viral disease spreads to the rest of the 11 towns as there is an existing ban on the entry of pork meat and meat products from the Luzon mainland.
With their worst fears realized as African Swine Fever spread to farms in five towns in Catanduanes, backyard raisers began butchering their pigs ahead of the inevitable depopulation to be implemented by local government units in so-called Infected Zones.
As soon as the Department of Agriculture (DA) regional office released the results of the analysis of field samples taken from suspected ASF-stricken hogs in San Andres, Virac, Viga, San Miguel and Bato last Dec. 16, 2020, backyard farmers scrambled to butcher their otherwise healthy animals so they could at least sell the meat or store them for use on during the observance of Christmas and the New Year.
Others transferred their animals in other farms far away from barangays where several pigs had died or are sick of suspected ASF.
Following reports of hogs dying or getting sick in several barangays and government breeding farms in the five towns, the Provincial Veterinary Office, in coordination with the Municipal Agriculture Offices, immediately secured blood samples and organ specimens and sent them to the Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (RADDL) in Camalig, Albay last Dec. 14 for analysis.
The bad news came back to the island in the late afternoon of Dec. 16, a day after the lab finished the analysis.
Of the 40 samples examined, only five of them yielded negative results from the Reverse Transcription-Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test.
The 35 samples that were detected to have the ASF viral DNA came from Wagdas, Batong Paluway, Cabcab, Datag, and Bagong Sirang, all in San Andres; Viga Breeding Station at San Vicente, Viga; Catanduanes State University (CatSU) College of Agriculture and Fisheries at Calatagan Tibang, Virac; San Isidro Village, Valencia, Gogon, Calatagan, and Sta. Elena, all in Virac; San Miguel poblacion; and, Cabugao in Bato.
Upon receiving the information, Governor Joseph Cua immediately informed the five towns and convened the Provincial ASF Task Force for an urgent virtual meeting with the DA’s Regional Quick Response Team last Dec. 18 to discuss procedures for the quarantine and depopulation protocol.
The governor’s action comes just a week after he received a request from a town mayor for the lifting of the temporary total ban on the importation of live hogs, pork and all pork products into Catanduanes. The ban had been imposed in late February 2020 after an outbreak spread in the mainland province of Camarines Sur just across Maqueda Channel.
In a meeting with Virac Municipal Administrator Elouisa Pastor, municipal agriculturist Jimma Tadoy and other officials on Dec. 17, Provincial Veterinarian Dr. Jane Rubio advised the LGU to activate the municipal ASF task force and meet its members as well as Punong Barangays of the affected villages as soon as possible.
She also urged the agriculture office to conduct disinfection of pig pens and to ensure that all pigs scheduled for butchering must undergo inspection by the livestock inspector.
In the infected zone 500 meters from the so-called ground zero, there must be no butchering or movement of the animals, healthy or otherwise, “kasi kakalat pa yan,” Rubio advised.
On the other hand, the depopulation of the pigs within the zone should be closely supervised, which can only be done if the local environment officer has found a suitable burial site.
The swine will be individually stunned using electrified prongs, placed in plastic bags and thrown into the pit before they will be covered with earth.
At least seven personnel, including barangay officials as witnesses, and a backhoe and payloader needed for each depopulation activity.
The DA’s indemnification fund will be used to pay backyard farmers P5,000 for each hog, excluding suckling pigs. The claim should be supported by at least two photographs of each step as well as forms signed by concerned officials.
Dr. Rubio also encouraged other backyard swine raisers to submit blood or tissue samples from their animals to her office for free testing at RADDL. She likewise advised them to first clean their pens before conducting disinfection.
In the Friday meeting with the Provincial ASF Task Force, DA Regional Technical Director for Research and Regulatory Services Edgar Madrid laid out steps that the task force should follow to prevent the spread of the disease to the other six towns.
Among these were: activation of the task force’s Provincial Quick Response Team; establishment of border control checkpoints at the infection and quarantine zones, as well as municipal boundaries, including disinfection of vehicles; inventory of farmers and swine in the Infected Zones; identification of burial sites preferably within the IZ; conduct of surveillance and monitoring in the Surveillance Zones seven kilometers from ground zero; non-selective depopulation within the 500-meter IZ within seven days from receipt of the notice from DA; regular disinfection of hog farms; information dissemination by LGUs and barangay officials; and strict implementation of DA Administrative Order No. 22 and related issuances.
The presence of the local police would be required during the depopulation process in case there is resistance from the farmers, who should be briefed beforehand, Madrid stated.
An inventory of the swine population in Catanduanes conducted early this year by the towns showed the total number at 16,195.
About half or 8,212 came from the ASF-infected towns: Virac, 2,479; San Andres, 2,349; Viga, 1,448; Bato, 1,196; and, San Miguel, 740.
In 2019, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the province recorded a total swine production of 6,645 metric tons, which had a total value of about P1 billion when computed at P200 per kilo.
According to DA, the hemorrhagic disease which affects only domestic and wild pigs is characterized by the following symptoms in stricken pigs: high fever, lack of appetite, redness in the skin, and bleeding internal organs, with the animal dying within two to 10 days after infection.
The virus can be spread through direct contact or indirect transmission through “kaning baboy”, flies, dirty shoes and vehicles as well as clothes, and can remain for three months in uncooked meat and for 1,000 days in frozen meat.