Opinion

The other virus problem

The other virus problem

While the country becomes preoccupied with the novel coronavirus following confirmation of the first 2019-nCoV case in the Philippines, authorities should not lose sight of the other viral problem.

As of the latest count, nearly 200,000 hogs have been culled in Luzon due to African swine fever. This was reported by the Philippine government to the World Organization for Animal Health or OIE. Although ASF does not jump from animal to human, the virus has been disastrous to the domestic hog industry.

From August to December last year, nearly 140,000 pigs became susceptible to ASF and had to be culled as 130 outbreaks were reported in Bulacan, Caloocan, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Quezon City and Rizal. More than 1,700 pigs were considered infected. ASF has since spread to Aurora and Tarlac.

Last December, the Department of Agriculture had noted that ASF cases were on the decline. It is unclear if this was due to a genuine deceleration in the spread of the virus, or if there was underreporting as hog raisers concealed actual cases. ASF-tainted pork has found its way into markets, including supermarkets in Quezon City.

Last week, the town of Binmaley in Pangasinan declared a state of calamity after ASF cases were confirmed in five barangays. In the town of Malasiqui on Jan. 20, at least 300 pigs were culled in two barangays after tests confirmed ASF infection.

This threat is far from over, and every effort must be made to prevent the virus from jumping to the Visayas and Mindanao. Bulacan is the largest producer of pork in Central Luzon. Pampanga’s tocino and longganiza makers have been badly hit as well. Cebu does not want its lechon and chicharon industry to suffer the same calamity.

ASF is not claiming lives, but it is destroying livelihoods, with small-scale backyard hog raisers among the hardest hit. The ASF contagion is affecting the country’s food supply, and more effort is needed to contain its spread.