VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The hogging hurdles of the African Swine Fever, more than a year later

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The average retail prices of pork have ballooned by nearly 100% since the first case of African Swine Fever (ASF) was confirmed in the country in August 2019.

The prevailing price of kasim or pork loin increased by 85%, from P200 per kilogram (kg) in August 2019 to P370/kg in January 2021. That of liempo or pork belly increased by 81.82%, from P220/kg in August 2019 to P400/kg in January.

ASF was the “biggest blow” to the Philippines’ P260-billion hog industry “in recent years,” suffering a loss of at least P43 billion from August 2019 to December 2020, according to Agriculture Undersecretary William Medrano.

What exactly is ASF and how has it affected hog supply and pork prices in the country? What is the government doing to address the problem?

Here are four things you need to know:

What is ASF?

ASF is a “highly lethal and “highly contagious” viral disease that affects domestic and wild pigs, regardless of age and sex, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Infected pigs typically experience high fever, loss of appetite, and internal bleeding of organs and the skin. Mortality rates may be “as high as 100%” and hogs die within two to 10 days “on average” after contracting the disease, according to the World Organization for Animal Health or OIE.

The ASF virus remains infective for at least 15 weeks in chilled meat products, and three to six months in processed hams and sausages that have not been cooked or smoked at a high temperature, according to an ASF manual of FAO.

The OIE, which recorded outbreaks of the disease in African, Asian, and European countries from 2016 to 2020, noted in a 2020 global situation report that ASF was present in 30%, or 60 out of 201, of the reporting countries, including the Philippines.

First identified in East Africa in the early 1900s, the ASF virus is believed to have been transmitted by warthogs and soft ticks usually living in their burrows.

On Sept. 9, 2019, the Department of Agriculture (DA) confirmed the presence of ASF in the Philippines after samples collected from small backyard farms in Rizal province were detected as ASF-positive through a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test.

How does it affect the supply of meat in the Philippines?

In just a year after the disease was detected in the country, the total swine inventory dwindled by 13.4%, from 13.01 million pigs in October 2019 to 11.27 million heads in backyard and commercial farms combined as of October last year, according to a report by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released in November 2020.

Of the 11.27 million heads, Regions IV-A (CALABARZON), VI (Western Visayas), and VII (Central Visayas) shouldered 33.91%, or about 3.82 million heads of the country’s homegrown supply in 2020.

In its 2020 year-end report, the DA said the disease has affected 25 out of the country’s 81 provinces, with the Visayas, Mindanao, and MIMAROPA (IV-B) regions “still ASF-free.” However, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a Jan. 18, 2021 press briefing that 2,130 barangays in 37 provinces are grappling with the outbreak.

The multi-billion peso industry relies on small backyard raisers for roughly two-thirds or 65% of its supply, according to DA reports. Commercial farms produce the remaining 35%.

In a Nov. 10, 2020 online media forum, Reildrin Morales, executive director of the DA’s National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS), said:

“So kung naapektuhan po ang backyard [farm] sa isang area, may naapektuhan -- madali po kasi sa backyard eh, ‘no? Kung may isa, dalawa, tatlong baboy ka at nagkaroon ng outbreak doon sa area ninyo, madali kang maghinto ng inyong production. Pag naibenta mo, mag-aantay baka na lang kung kailan safe. So dahil po diyan marami ang nag-control at hindi nag-alaga ng baboy. At kaya po ang naging resulta nito ay numipis po ang ating supply.

(If a backyard [farm] in one area is affected -- since [the disease easily spreads] in backyard [farms], right? If you have one, two, three pigs and there is an outbreak in your area, it is more likely that you will stop production. After you sell it, you will most likely wait until [the situation] is safe. Because of that, many [small-scale backyard farms] controlled [their production] and opted not to raise hogs. And that's why our pork supply is depleted.)”

Source: PCOO Global Media Affairs, DA: REDUCED SWINE PRODUCTION IN Q3 DUE TO ASF, Nov. 10, 2020, watch from 0:59 to 1:28.
How does the disease affect the market price of pork?

The highly lethal disease resulted in a decreased supply of pork in Luzon and a spike in market prices of pork products. The prices started to rise in April 2020, a month into the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, based on the DA’s price monitoring database.

Made with Flourish

From fluctuating between P200/kg and P220/kg in the months prior to the detection of the first ASF case in the country, kasim is now priced at P370/kg as of Jan. 29, based on DA data. Liempo, which ranged from P220/kg to P240/kg before ASF, has almost doubled at P400/kg.

Ricky Delgado, 51, a third-generation pork vendor in Tondo, told VERA Files in a phone interview on Jan. 20 that the times have stumped the local meat industry, ultimately threatening the almost-60-year-old family business at Quinta Market in Quiapo, Manila.

Siyempre bumaba nang bumaba ‘yung kita ko (Of course my profit decreased as time went by),” said Delgado, noting that when public movement was restricted at the height of the ECQ, sales were down and delivering the meat products to his patrons was a struggle.

Delgado added that the increasing price of pork carcasses bought from local suppliers is a burden that meat vendors cannot simply pass on to their customers.

Under Republic Act 7581, or the Price Act of 1992, the DA may impose suggested retail prices (SRP), if necessary. Section 7 of the law mandates the president, upon the recommendation of the DA, to impose price ceilings especially in cases of:

  • impendency, existence, or effects of a calamity;
  • threat, existence, or effects of an emergency;
  • prevalence or widespread acts of illegal price manipulation;
  • impendency, existence, or effect of any event that causes artificial and unreasonable increase in the price of the basic necessity or prime commodity; and,
  • whenever the prevailing price of any basic necessity or prime commodity has risen to “unreasonable levels.”

On Nov. 26, 2020 the agriculture department set the SRP of pork loin and belly at P260 and P290, respectively. The SRP of pork ham was at P190 nine months prior.

Hindi mo naman kaagad pwedeng ipasa sa mga consumer mo ‘yan ... kaya lahat kami nasa struggling stage kami ngayon. ‘Yung margin of income namin, sobrang baba (You can’t just pass on to consumers the burden [of increasing prices] ... that’s why all of us [meat vendors] are struggling right now. Our margin of income is really low),” Delgado said.

What is the government doing to tame the disease?

Part of the government’s earlier contingency plan for ASF is to ban the importation of meat from ASF-affected countries and prohibit using food wastes or left-overs from domestic and international airports and seaports, so-called swills, as feeds in local piggeries.

The plan also touched on prohibiting the movement of "live animals, animal products, and by-products.” This comes alongside stricter sanitation methods on the entry points of the country.

On Feb. 1, President Rodrigo Duterte approved the price ceiling on selected pork meat products, with pork loin now at P270/kg and pork belly at P300/kg, effective for 60 days from signing, or until April 2. The price ceiling may be extended upon recommendation of the DA.

The national government is also enacting repopulation, prevention measures, and importation, as its “last priority,” to address the impacts of ASF in the country.


A screenshot of the DA's "whole of nation" approach to support the hog industry presented during the Senate committee hearing on Feb. 1. Source: Senate of the Philippines, Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform (Feb. 1, 2021), Feb. 1, 2021

To stabilize the price of pork in the market, Duterte also approved the DA’s proposal to temporarily increase the minimum access volume (MAV) of imported pork.

In a press briefing in January, Dar said the government was planning to triple the amount of imported pork allowed in the country from 54,000 metric tons per year to 162,000 metric tons, to add to the country’s pork supply.

This is equivalent to 31.83% of the total 508,906 metric tons of hogs produced in the country as of October last year.

But local meat vendors and hog raisers, who bear the brunt of this disease, point toward

a different approach to the problem.

Alamin nila ‘yung ugat ng problema (They should address the root of the problem),” Delgado said. “Dapat hanapin nila, ng gobyerno, talaga kung saan nanggagaling ‘yung presyong pinapatong nila sa mga kalakal ng meats, ‘di ba (The government should trace from where they are pulling the price increase of meat, right)?” he added.

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan raised similar questions during the Feb. 1 Senate committee hearing on the alarming increase in the prices of basic commodities, while senators Cynthia Villar and Imee Marcos flagged the increased importation of pork as detrimental to the local pig industry.

In a Jan. 31 press release, Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said the DA may be “overcompensating” in its resolution to increase the volume of imported pork in an effort to reduce consumer prices.

Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, also noted that more efforts and resources from Bayanihan 2, an act extending the availability of the nation’s COVID-19 budget for new programs and projects, can be redirected to increasing the population of livestock in the local hog sector.

During the Feb. 1 hearing, Villar suggested the legislation of a measure to help the livestock sector, which, together with the poultry industry, she said, contribute about 33% to the country’s agricultural production.

Morales said he also sees the need to increase production of local pigs, especially with 360,000 pigs already lost to ASF in backyard farms.

“We should really repopulate. We have a very limited supply already and the demand is still increasing,” the NMIS director said, noting that the recorded 10% loss in pork production in 2020 is a “conservative” estimate.

The DA “initially” allotted P80 million in January 2021 to “mass produce” and distribute to local government units (LGUs) Filipino-made test kits for the detection of ASF.

Morales likewise proposed to organize backyard farms into clusters, specifically to cater to the biosecurity of such set-ups.

In a Dec. 11 webinar on strengthening measures in ASF prevention and control, Morales said changes would require backyard farms to have:

  • walled or fenced-off farms,
  • limited movement of people,
  • clean sources of water and feed,
  • regular cleaning and disinfection, and
  • pest-proofing mechanisms.

The DA has allotted an initial P400 million to increase the population of pigs in backyard farms which, under Dar’s directive, would be reorganized into clusters as Morales proposed last year. The national government has also budgeted P15 billion to loan to commercial hog raisers.

“You might ask why [focus on repopulating] backyard [farms]? Simply because 65% of 12 million pigs, or about 8 million pigs, distributed all across the country provid[e] livelihood to millions of Filipinos and fuel the rural economies. This [social implications] is (sic) too much if we say we will altogether do away with backyard farming,” said Morales.

In November 2019, the DA estimated that the cost to control the disease would take P5,000 per pig.

With close to 360,000 heads already culled from the country’s backyard farm supply as of December 2020, it would take about P1.8 billion more from the pockets of the nation to recover.


Sources

Department of Agriculture, Press Conference on Hog Disease, Sept. 10, 2019

World Animal Health Information Database, Event summary: African swine fever, Philippines, Accessed Jan. 21, 2021

Department of Agriculture Price Monitoring Database, Daily Price Monitoring Report: Aug. 31, 2019, Aug. 31, 2019

Department of Agriculture Price Monitoring Database, Preliminary Report as of Friday, 29 January 2021, Jan. 29, 2021

National Livestock Program Official Facebook Page, Webinar on Strengthening Measures in ASF Prevention and Control December 10-11, 2020, Dec. 10, 2020

Department of Agriculture, DA-CMTF Bulletin No. 5: On vigorously enforcing “1-7-10 Protocol” to manage, contain, and control suspected swine disease; result of confirmatory test, Sept. 9, 2019

What is ASF?

How does it affect meat supply?

How does this disease affect the market price?

What is the government doing?


(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)

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