Farmers’ role in fight against animal disease

The Philippines has witnessed first-hand how an animal disease could single-handedly disrupt the food supply chain and stoke inflation. For one, the price of pork surged to more than P400 per kilogram in January 2021 due to a fatal hog disease that decimated farms. That figure is almost equivalent to the minimum daily wage in the National Capital Region.

The culprit was African swine fever, a disease that is fatal to hogs but does not affect humans. ASF, a transboundary animal disease, struck the country in 2019. First detected in a hog farm in Rizal, ASF had spread to farms in other parts of the country and nearly crippled the hog industry and caused pork prices to rise (See, “ASF killed hogs in Bulacan, Rizal–DA,” in the BusinessMirror, September 10, 2019).

Avian influenza or bird flu is another animal disease that had threatened the country’s poultry supply. Because the disease could easily spread to other farms, the government culled thousands of birds and restricted the movement of poultry products. Growers had to wait for months before they can repopulate their farms (See, “Bird flu seen cutting farm growth in H2,” in the BusinessMirror, August 15, 2017).

Even before the Philippines could eliminate bird flu and ASF, another animal disease is posing a threat to the local poultry sector. Dubbed inclusion body hepatitis (IBH), the disease is caused by the fowl adenovirus, according to experts (See, “Poultry raisers issue warning on spread of fowl adenovirus,” in the BusinessMirror, June 30, 2022). As animals that contract IBH tend to be “asymptomatic,” or do not usually exhibit symptoms, the disease can be regarded as a silent killer that could bring the poultry sector to its knees if it is not stopped in its tracks.

Preventing IBH from spreading to other poultry farms in the country requires vaccines that would help the domestic chicken population ward off fowl adenovirus. While there are locally available vaccines against IBH, the Philippines requires those that could fight off a certain serotype, according to an expert from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños (See, “Vaccines to fight fowl adenovirus urgently needed,” in the BusinessMirror, July 6, 2022). This type of vaccine would have to be imported immediately to give the Philippines potent ammunition against the IBH scourge.

Efforts to purchase the required vaccines must be done as soon as possible given the supply chain woes that continue to hound not only the Philippines but also countries where the vaccines would originate. Delaying the importation of the much-needed vaccines against IBH could imperil the domestic poultry population and exacerbate supply issues that are now affecting institutional buyers.

Aside from bringing in the vaccines needed by the sector, it would do well for the government to also put in place a program that will indemnify raisers adequately as this would encourage them to report unusual mortalities. Crucial to winning the fight against any animal disease is the cooperation of farmers. They need assurance that despite the losses they would incur due to the culling of their flock, they would receive compensation that would help tide them over until they can successfully repopulate their farms again.

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