No more Christmas hams? Pork producers reluctant amid swine fever scare

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Hams on display at a restaurant (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — An industry group opposed the move of local government units (LGUs) to impose a ban on the entry of pork products amid cases of African swine fever, saying that jobs and incomes are at stake.

The Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (PAMPI) even revealed that some of their members are reluctant to manufacture Christmas hams — a noche buena staple — as more towns and provinces block the transport of pork products just weeks before the holiday season.

"Mahirap naman mag-produce tapos hindi maibebenta dahil pagbabawalan kaming dalhin ang produkto sa ibang lugar," PAMPI Vice President and CDO Foodsphere Inc. President Jerome Ong said in a media briefing on Friday.

[Translation: It's hard for us to produce (hams) because we might end up not able to sell these in some areas.]

The Department of Agriculture declared a swine fever outbreak in Rodriguez and Antipolo in Rizal and in Guiguinto, Bulacan. Quezon City is the third area with confirmed cases of the swine fever in barangays Bagong Silangan and Payatas, Mayor Joy Belmonte announced Friday.

The provinces of Benguet, Cebu, Bohol, Negros Occidental, and Pampanga have tightened watch against the disease by banning the entry of live hogs and even pork products shipped from areas affected by the swine fever.

Meanwhile, a conditional ban is in place in Catbalogan, Samar; Maasin, Southern Leyte; Catarman, Northern Samar; Negros Oriental; Misamis Oriental; General Santos City; Ilocos Sur; and Ilocos Norte.

In a statement, the group rejected the move of mayors and governors blocking the entry of pork products, directing the appeal to Malacañang. PAMPI President Felix Tiukinhoy, Jr. added that there should be collaboration among LGUs and the national government to minimize losses to the ₱300-billion industry.

PAMPI also dispelled fears that canned and processed pork products are carriers of the disease, as their goods are cooked in high temperatures for 40 to 60 minutes. "At those cooking temperatures, the ASF virus is killed," the group said, noting that member firms only use raw pork which come from disease-free locations.

"It is best for national or local authorities to look for the cause(s) of the spread and transmission of the African Swine Fever virus elsewhere, rather than processed meat products," PAMPI added.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez also issued a statement on Thursday to say that pork certified by the National Meat Inspection Service is safe to eat, while canned goods and hotdogs approved by the Food and Drug Administration are also safe to consume.

Humans will not be affected by the swine fever, but can be carriers of the virus, which often causes swift death to pigs.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Carolyn Bonquin contributed to this report.