South Cotabato heightens ASF watch as hog virus hits North Cotabato town

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 November) – South Cotabato province has implemented stricter control and surveillance measures in its border areas in the wake of the detection of new African Swine Fever (ASF) cases in M’lang town, North Cotabato.

Dr. Flora Bigot, head of the Provincial Veterinary Office, said on Thursday they have adopted fresh strategies to seal off the entire province from the unauthorized shipment of live hogs and pork products coming from North Cotabato and other areas with confirmed ASF outbreaks.

She said they have blocked all possible entry points in its border areas, especially those with Sultan Kudarat province, this city, and other neighboring localities.

Such move is the main component of the local government’s ASF prevention strategy dubbed “Babes,” which stands for block the entry, avoid swill feeding, banning of pork and by-products, educate the people, and submit samples.

Bigot said the province has active veterinary quarantine checkpoints situated in barangays Magon in Tantangan town, Glamang in Polomolok, Dumaguil and Lapuz in Norala, New Panay in Sto. Niño, Miasong in Tupi, and San Jose in Koronadal City.

She said they are planning to set up additional checkpoints in the coming days in Barangay New Cuyapo in Tantangan to secure an alternate route connecting to President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat.

“Based on our monitoring, some shippers and livestock consolidators have been continuously attempting to use various alternate routes to enter our area so we have to stop that,” Bigot said in a press conference.

The province is linked to M’lang, North Cotabato via the Makilala-Allah Valley Road that traverses portions of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

The Department of Agriculture confirmed the detection last Nov. 8 of ASF cases in six barangays of M’lang, which was prompted to declare a state of calamity last week due to the outbreak.

Suspected cases traced from Tulunan and Matalam town were also found in hogs processed at M’lang slaughterhouse but the field surveillance has so far turned out negative.

The official said they have expanded their surveillance against the ASF in slaughterhouses and backyard farms through barangays clusters.

She said their personnel gather random blood samples from backyard hogs as well as animals processed in the slaughterhouses and submit them to laboratory examination.

For private farms, she said they are mandated to submit samples every month as required for the issuance of ASF-free certificates.

Bigot said they are also monitoring public markers, frozen meat shops, and other outlets selling pork products for the presence of unlabeled or authorized items.

She said there’s a possibility that some of the products, among them pork tocino and chorizo or longganisa, are sourced from ASF-infected areas in the neighboring regions.

She said there were pork products seized in Tacurong City and Sultan Kudarat province in the past several weeks that turned out positive for ASF.

“It’s very alarming. It is important for us to intercept these products before they could enter our markets,” she said.

South Cotabato and this city remain under the “dark green” zone or among the areas in the country that remain free from ASF.

The area is among the top producers of live hogs in the country, shipping out at least 15,000 heads every two weeks to Metro Manila and Luzon.

The South Cotabato Swine Producers Association, the biggest association of commercial swine farms in the area, has a combined sow population of 55,000 and produces more than 45,000 heads of hogs a month.

About 10 percent of the group’s production is consumed in Soccsksargen and it supplies the 90 percent surplus to markets in Luzon and the Visayas. (MindaNews)