More concrete steps vs. swine fever sought

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    Amid the recent apprehension of two containers carrying illegally imported pork and other meat products from China soon after two local brands were found to be positive for African swine fever (ASF), government is being urged to step up efforts in containing the disease.

    Vic Dimagiba, president of Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI), said government has to put up a more concrete and effective action plan on ASF by calling for a summit of all stakeholders.

    While President Duterte had earlier instructed all government agencies to pool resources to stop the epidemic, Dimagiba said government and private sector stakeholders and even the World Health Organization (WHO) can share resources and expertise for a holistic approach to the problem.

    Dimagiba also expressed concern the 1 -7-10 protocol being observed may no longer be adequate.

    Under the protocol, all pigs within the a kilometer radius of the suspected farm will be culled. Movement of pork and pork products within  7 kms will be limited while surveillance and monitoring will be conducted within the 10-kilometer radius of the suspected premises.
    As of October 17, WHO has identified Rizal, Bulacan, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Nueva Ecija, Cavite provinces and Quezon City as areas affected by ASF.

    In a statement, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) called for the filing of charges against the entity found to have smuggled into the Port of Manila last week two refrigerated containers carrying carrying dimsum; dumplings; Peking duck; fresh, frozen duck deserts; pork meat; and pork products; marinated chicken wings; minced vegetables with meat; egg noodles; breaded chicken fillet; fresh, frozen squid rings; and frozen scallops. The shipments were declared to carry tomato paste and vermicelli.

    In a statement, SINAG said agricultural smuggling is considered economic sabotage, a non-bailable offense.

    “Smugglers are emboldened since nobody has yet to be jailed (for such offense.)

    …Threshold of at least P1 million of smuggled pork, chicken, beef, onions, etc. constitutes economic sabotage,” said Jayson Cainglet, SINAG executive director.

    Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar said the shipments were intercepted by the DA’s anti-smuggling unit, Compliance and Regulatory Enforcement for Security and Trade Office, in cooperation with the Bureau of Customs.

    “A report from our anti-smuggling team leader, retired police general Jonathan Ablang, said the apprehended items were stuffed in reefer containers with temperature setting at minus 18 degrees Celsius, obviously indicating that the goods kept therein are not what they were declared to be,” Dar said in a statement.

    Since last year, the DA has banned the importation, distribution, and sale of processed pork products from countries and regions affected by ASF. Apart from China, the list includes Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Hongkong, Hungary, North Korea, Laos, Latvia, Moldova, Mongolia, Myanmar, Poland, Romania Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa, Ukraine, Vietnam, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Germany.

    Dar also reiterated all pork products from these countries will be confiscated by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) veterinary quarantine officers and inspectors.

    In a separate statement over the weekend, Pampanga-based meat processor, Mekeni Food Corp. said it has submitted samples of its pork-based products to the BAI as well as to another independent testing facility.

    The move came after Mekeni’s products were found to be positive with ASF based on earlier tests conducted by the BAI.

    But the company said pending the results of the tests on the new samples, it has initiated a voluntary recall of all of its pork-based products effective last Friday.

    Mekeni reiterated the pronouncements by the Department of Heath and of the DA that ASF poses no danger to human health.

    But for Dimagiba, this development should put more pressure on regulatory agencies to make public disclosure of the product identification for transparency.

    “ What if the meat products tested positive with ASF turn out to be another brand,” said Dimagiba.

    “Regulatory agencies should disclose the identity of the tested product, to go through the process of law and to take appropriate action as necessary,” Dimagiba said.

    He said LKI on Saturday formalized the group’s call for disclosure in a letter addressed to DA Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan and DOH Undersecretary Eric Domingo.

    LKI cited Sections 8 and 11 B of the Food Safety Act as the legal basis for the regulatory agencies to inform consumers and to be transparent on matters affecting food safety.

    Quezon City Rep. Precious Hipolito Castelo said DA should identify all brands of processed meat products tested positive for ASF, saying keeping the public guessing would only fuel “unnecessary ASF scare.”

    Castelo, vice chair of the House committee on Metro Manila Development, said “The DA should also identify the goods not contaminated with ASF,” she said. “We don’t want this to happen especially when millions of our countrymen are about to celebrate the Christmas season.”

    Castelo said naming the contaminated goods would spare other brands that are safe to consume, giving the public choices.

    She said that while ASF does not pose any threat to human health, it has alarmed several local government units which imposed a ban on contaminated meat products to protect their hog industries. (J. Macapagal with W. Vigilia)

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