Two years after the deadly African swine fever (ASF) was first detected in a backyard piggery in Rizal, the hog disease continues to threaten the country’s livestock sector. While outbreaks have declined in recent months, the entire country cannot yet heave a sigh of relief (See, DA reports decline in ASF outbreaks, in the BusinessMirror, June 8, 2021). We can’t let our guard down yet because  all it takes for outbreaks to flare up again is just one careless trader transporting infected pigs to abattoirs.

The continuing threat of the fatal hog disease has been putting pressure on food inflation since January, when pork prices jumped to more than P400 per kilogram in some Metro Manila wet markets. In August, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua said pork remained expensive due to “production problems” caused by ASF (See, “Pork prices remain elevated due to ASF—Chua,” in the BusinessMirror, August 26, 2021). This despite the fact that the government has already lowered tariff rates for imported pork as a way of tempering the spike in pork prices.

What compounded the country’s pork supply woes is the container crisis, which caused delays in the arrival of shipments and precipitated an increase in shipping costs. Discussions on the purchase of imported pork were made in February and the President gave his approval to the measure in April, when the Executive Order lowering tariffs on pork was issued. Around the same time that the EO was released, importers and exporters have been experiencing delays in their shipments due to the container crisis and the worsening congestion in global ports (See, “Shipping charter rates up 65% in Q2, food importers hurting,” in the BusinessMirror, May 24, 2021).

The reimposition of the toughest quarantine restrictions also delayed the arrival of pork imports in cold storage facilities (See, “Imports beef up pork inventory in Oct–NMIS, in the BusinessMirror, October 18, 2021). This swelled the inventory of pork in local cold storage facilities particularly in the National Capital Region. To reduce the inventory, the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines  urgently proposed the lifting of restriction and the sale of imported pork in areas outside of Mega Manila.

The arrival of more imported pork in the coming months would make it difficult for local traders to find cold storage facilities for their shipments. Of the record 83,469.53 metric tons of pork inventory as of October 1, the National Meat Inspection Service noted that 97 percent were imported. Cold storage facilities in NCR, Regions 3 and 4-A accounted for nearly 84 percent of the total.

The easing of tough quarantine restrictions coupled with the expected increase in demand during the holidays could cause pork prices to again accelerate. It would do well for government to remember that in February, the price of fresh pork sold in areas outside of the NCR jumped by 53 percent year-on-year. Allowing the sale of imported pork outside the National Capital Region could help temper inflation and give low-income families in other areas a chance to enjoy cheaper pork during the holidays.

Image courtesy of Ed Davad

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