Lack of relevant data hindering decisions on ASF

Provincial veterinarian Dr. Jane C. Rubio has a valid point in recommending the lifting of the temporary ban on the entry of pork and pork products into the province, as long as they are covered by the proper permits.

Her recommendation came near the conclusion of the recent meeting of the Provincial African Swine Fever (ASF) Task Force chaired by then Acting Gov. Shirley Abundo.

She reminded the task force members that the national government has allowed the importation of ASF-free pork and pork products and its subsequent shipment to the provinces once the shippers have secured the necessary permits from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS).

With nearly 1,500 heads killed and buried in scheduled depopulations, there is now a lack of supply of pork in the island, she said. Prices of pork have risen to at least P250 per kilo in the capital town of Virac while the situation has likewise led to an increase in the price of carabeef and chicken.

But the suggestion has been thumbed down by majority of the ASF task force members, who maintain it would encourage local meat buyers to smuggle in pigs from ASF-infected areas in the mainland and thus worsen the infestation in the island.

The task force is likewise standing on good ground, for the spread of the virus is largely blamed on unscrupulous meat traders who indeed brought in infected swine from nearby Camarines Sur through the porous, unguarded coastal villages of San Andres, Caramoran and Pandan.

While Vice Gov. Abundo deemed it wise to leave the decision to the body once Governor Joseph C. Cua is back from his hospital quarantine due to COVID-19, perhaps the task force should instead consider Dr. Rubio’s suggestion from the viewpoint of the consumer.

Majority of the people are meat lovers and who would not be when two of the island’s most delicious fiesta food – humba and adobo – are made from pork.

The very least that the ASF task force can do for them is to partially lift the ban, but only for pork from so-called Free Zones, areas in the country that are free from ASF. The same should extend to branded pork products produced by known meat-packing and processing companies subjected to regular, stringent inspection by NMIS.

All the other pork and pork products, those from Containment Zones and those without branding, would have to be confiscated and disposed of according to existing guidelines.

Before presenting again her proposal to the PASTF, perhaps the good veterinarian should do some spadework and gather data from the municipalities on just how many heads of pigs are there remaining in each of the 315 barangays.

The data should include not only the number of pigs subjected to depopulation but also those which were butchered for meat or buried by backyard raisers without the knowledge of authorities.

Then, and only then, will the task force be able to size up the situation and determine whether the lifting of the temporary ban is justified.

As barangays, some municipal agriculture personnel, and even the PVet office, are notorious for not keeping up-to-date data on local animal population, there should now be a system in place at the barangay level to keep track of information and statistics that are useful in situations like this.

In this Information Age, the local government unit which has the most available, up-to-date and relevant data has greater chances to achieve its development goals.

For several years, the Tribune has been harping on the need for barangays of this disaster-prone province to maintain an inventory of public and private assets that can be tapped for use in local disaster response.

Until now, that remains unfulfilled and the same lackadaisical attitude is likely to continue in this time of pandemics.

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