Pork shortage possible due to ASF, Covid-19

The dual crisis of ASF and Covid-19 could lead to a shortage of pork in the Philippines writes ISA Q TAN. Estimates vary but the local pig industry has recorded losses of up to 30% from ASF alone. Unfortunately, the end is not yet in sight.

Industry leaders have been reassuring the public that they can meet consumer demand.

Edwin Chen

Edwin Chen, President of Propork, a federation of pork producers, said consumers need not worry about fresh local pork supplies.

“We have more than enough supply, and we continue to work hard to make sure the Philippines has food resilience and we as producers can put safe food on the tables of every Filipino,” he said.

Dante Palabrica, President of Philippine Pork Incorporators Guild, told Asian Agribiz that the community quarantine enforced to minimize the spread of Covid-19 has eased demand for fresh pork.

Dante Palabrica

“Pork consumption has been affected by hotel and restaurant closures, limited wet market and supermarket operations, and cheap broilers flooding the market. More people are also buying canned goods, so our current pork supply will be good until the third quarter,” he said.

Rolando Tambago

Rolando Tambago, President of Virginia Farms in Cebu province, agreed, telling Asian Agribiz that a fall in consumption has taken pressure off existing pork supplies, especially in cities and tourist areas.

“We can’t say by how much because Covid-19 is still spreading, although I think it will be the urban centers and tourist-dependent areas that will be most affected in terms of pork consumption,” he said.

Supply concerns

Nevertheless, Asian Agribiz understands the current measures to contain ASF have not been working well. This means more farms could be affected, which could harm pork supplies in the coming months.

Jess Cham

Meanwhile, Jess Cham, President of the Meat Importers and Traders Association, said imported meat, and especially pork, had become more expensive.

“Imports are under pressure due to higher prices abroad and delayed arrival due to a shortage of containers. This is coupled with uncertainties in the domestic market,” he told Asian Agribiz.

“I suppose importers are still being conservative in placing new orders, so meat arrivals will be slow,” he added.

“The Department of Agriculture assures us that there will be enough supply of local meat and other food items. Presumably, local production has not been adversely affected. I hope the supply chains can be managed properly to ensure that.”

ASF to change production landscape

Pig production in the Philippines has for a long time been dominated by the backyard sector. This is likely to change permanently as ASF continues to spread and more of these farmers halt production—many permanently.

In turn, commercial producers will pick up the slack, Asian Agribiz has been told.

“With ASF, we saw the need to change our current production systems,” one industry figure said. “Some of these changes require investments beyond the capacity of small players. So, we will likely see bigger commercial operations getting a better slice of the pie.”

Another said producers will have no choice but to change their model as consumers take more of an interest in food safety and animal welfare. These can only be addressed by investing in more modern and efficient production.

“Modernizing to become more efficient calls for heavy investments that don’t come cheap. But that is where we have to go. A producer will want to protect that investment and make sure it is both profitable and sustainable,” he said.


Rebuilding the industry

With the government still focused on containing the virus, some observers note it is time to look to the future and rebuild the local herd. Pork remains the meat of choice of many Filipinos.

Many pig producers, especially in the backyard sector, have halted operations due to ASF. This is significant because these small players make up at least 60% of the industry.

Without a vaccine, many producers are reluctant to restock. Those that do want to restock, however, are finding it difficult to find sows and piglets.

“Many producers lost a lot of money and are afraid to repopulate farms given the continued risk of ASF reinfection,” said Dr Palabrica. “But replenishing stocks could be addressed in the short term by using F1 as breeders and while waiting for the real breeders to come in.”

He said ASF and Covid-19 have affected pig production and pork consumption and should be addressed properly.

“But for every problem, there is always an opportunity,” Dr Palabrica said. I’m expecting 2021 to be a better year given these challenges we face.”