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Gov’t says food supply outlook ‘optimistic’

Cites twin moves to relax meat imports, rehabilitate local livestock sector
By: - Reporter / @kocampoINQ
/ 04:21 AM April 12, 2021

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has assured consumers that there would be adequate and affordable food supply —especially pork—amid the ongoing quarantine following the expected entry of more imports into the country.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said based on the agency’s inventory and projections, the country’s food supply outlook “remains on the optimistic side” even with the varying degrees of lockdowns imposed all over the country.

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The yearend stock for rice was expected to last for 75 days, the DA said, while supply for other major food commodities such as vegetables, chicken and fish were likewise favorable.

To address the current pork shortfall, the DA is pinning its hopes on President Duterte’s recent executive order that slashes the tariffs imposed on imported pork and the recommendation to raise the import volume under the import ceiling known as the minimum access volume (MAV).

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Dar said these measures were “aimed primarily at increasing the supply of pork and temper prices for the benefit of hog raisers and millions of consumers,” but lawmakers and agricultural groups feared that this would be the industry’s demise as it plunges into bankruptcy.

In separate statements given by leaders of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines (ProPork), Alyansa Agrikultura and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, they said that the price differential between imported frozen pork at P190 a kilogram and P330 a kilo for fresh pork would turn consumers away from buying local.

There have been talks among producer groups of forgoing their respective hog businesses to evade further losses that, in the long run, would threaten the country’s local pork supply.

“The DA’s policies are favoring importers and traders when they should be the ones protecting the local industry,” said Nicanor Briones, vice president of ProPork. “These [reforms] would surely kill the industry. It is over for us.”

Importers’ profit

Industry leaders claimed that the current pork shortfall leading to the spike in meat prices could still be imported without cutting the tariff rates and increasing the country’s MAV as importers still earn P200 to P250 a kilo.

They added that reducing tariffs would deprive the government of needed revenue that could be used to finance the recovery and repopulation of the livestock industry.

The DA argued that aside from easing importation, it has also allocated billions of pesos for repopulation efforts, loan programs and indemnification.

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It has also been distributing African swine fever (ASF) test kits nationwide.

Since the first ASF outbreak in the country in 2019, the local swine population plunged to its lowest in 16 years, based on the latest government data. Just last week, new ASF cases shattered Northern Samar’s ASF-free record.

Despite the local players’ grievances, the DA has remained firm in its position and maintained that relaxing importation rules would help manage the country’s inflation and secure more affordable food supplies.

“[Let] us continue to conquer the threat of hunger with innovations and strategies coupled with decisive actions for the benefit of our all countrymen,” Dar said.

“As the country continues to face and surmount the challenges due to the pandemic, we should not relax with the ‘business-as-usual’ attitude,” he added. INQ

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