Group renews call for stricter inspection of agri products amid new swine flu
MANILA, Philippines–An umbrella organization for agricultural stakeholders renewed its call on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to implement the First Border Policy as a new strain of hog disease that may trigger a new pandemic was discovered in China.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), which also represents the National Federation of Hog Farmers, said that the new virus should prompt the government to fully implement the policy under the Food Safety Law.
This entails the thorough inspection of agricultural commodities right at the point of entry, which the government has yet to implement due to lack of infrastructure and manpower.
The DA on Wednesday assured local consumers that the country does not import swine or pork products from China, although Agriculture Secretary William Dar admitted in a separate briefing on Thursday that smuggling continues to be a major problem in the sector.
Researchers in China have discovered a new type of swine flu named G4 – a type of H1N1 strain that caused a pandemic in 2009 – said to be transmissible to humans. While the possibility of human to human transmissions has not been confirmed, the DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) reminded the general public to report any unusual pig mortalities and to consult a physician when experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The local hog industry has been hounded by diseases since last year, as it continues to contain and stop the spread of the African swine fever (ASF), a hog illness that is not transmissible to humans but still does not have a vaccine. So far, the virus has already resulted in the culling of roughly 300,000 pigs.
Dar confirmed back then that the spread of ASF in Luzon was caused by tainted pork from China that was smuggled into the country. It eventually reached the islands of Visayas and Mindanao due to traders who smuggled tainted pork to minimize losses.
“If the 100-percent first border inspection cannot be implemented, we are recommending to the DA the immediate suspension of all refrigerated and non-refrigerated agriculture and agri-based imports,” Sinag said. “No 100-percent inspection at the port of first entry, no unloading of cargoes and/or containers.”
Customs assistant commissioner Vincent Maronilla said fresh produce only undergo “close open” examinations at the port of entry wherein officials literally open shipping containers for a quick look and immediately close them to avoid spoilage or contamination.
With the absence of cold-storage facilities at the country’s ports, shipments have to be delivered to the National Meat Inspection Services for a thorough examination. It is only there that commodities could be unloaded.
In December last year, Dar announced that the agency would begin the construction of the country’s first border inspection facility. However, plans were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
BAI Director Ronnie Domingo said in a phone interview that the agency has renewed plans for the facility, noting the importance of food safety following the emergence of new diseases.
The first examination area would be established at the port of Manila and will be used for the inspection of meat, fish, and vegetables. It is projected to be operational on or before June next year, Domingo said.
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