A potential threat to food sufficiency

More than a year after the World Organization for Animal Health declared that the Philippines is free of bird flu, the country is once again battling another outbreak of the dreaded bird disease. In February, the government notified the OIE of the outbreaks of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) Type A subtype H5N1 in Central Luzon farms (See, “PHL reports new avian flu outbreaks in Central Luzon farms,” in the BusinessMirror, February 22, 2022). Philippine authorities told the OIE that the outbreaks resulted in the death of over 42,000 quails and ducks.

While the outbreaks have not yet affected broilers, the avian influenza virus could affect chicken-producing areas if measures are not immediately undertaken to stop its spread. The Department of Agriculture (DA) has reported that there are now confirmed cases of H5N1 in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Tarlac, Sultan Kudarat, and Benguet. Three of the provinces where outbreaks of H5N1 have been recorded are in Central Luzon, the top poultry-producing region in the country, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

These developments are happening at a time when the Philippines remains susceptible to African swine fever, which decimated hog farms after it first struck Rizal province. And just like ASF, bird flu could spread easily and infect other farms if raisers are not careful. Disregarding biosecurity measures could also result in losses amounting to millions of pesos for local poultry growers in areas hit by bird flu, as they would be forced to cull their animals.

The fresh outbreaks have prompted the DA to appeal to the poultry growers and local government units  to help stamp out bird flu. As they are the first to know if there are suspected cases in their areas, LGUs and poultry growers were urged to report cases immediately. Reporting suspected cases immediately will allow the national government and veterinarians in the region to implement the necessary measures that would prevent the spread of the virus to other farms.

Farm owners have also been urged to follow Memorandum Circular No. 5 issued by the Agriculture department (See, “DA tells raisers to follow rules on transporting chicken,” in the BusinessMirror, March 2, 2022). The circular prescribes the guidelines on the local movement of domestic and wild birds and poultry products during the avian influenza period. The memorandum circular mandated the Bureau of Animal Industry to regulate the movement of ducks, quails, chicken, and other poultry commodities in affected areas, particularly those coming from within the one-kilometer quarantine area.

The Philippines has yet to fully recover from the devastation caused by ASF. If the scourge that is bird flu is not stopped on its tracks, it could harm broilers and eventually affect the country’s food supply situation. A decline in poultry supply would definitely compound the inflation woes currently being experienced in the country due to the conflict in Eastern Europe, which has upended markets and raised food prices.

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