Manila is considering a total importation ban on chicken and wild-bird products from mainland United States as avian influenza continues to spread like wildfire in major poultry-producing areas there.
“Bird flu is spreading rapidly from California to the Midwest, where majority of the poultry farms are located. We’re preparing if something goes wrong,” Agriculture Undersecretary for Livestock Jose Reaño said in an interview on Monday.
Reaño’s statement stemmed from an earlier report by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture to the Office of International des Epizooties (OIE) that there has been an outbreak of the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza virus in 13 states.
The bird flu-affected states were Arkansas, California, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin.
Avian influenza is a highly contagious viral disease affecting several species of food- producing birds (chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, etc.) as well as pet birds and wild birds. In its notifiable form, the disease can be divided into two categories—high pathogenecity and low pathogenecity.
HPAI virus spreads rapidly, may cause serious disease and result in high mortality rates (up to 100 percent within 48 hours). The low pathogenic avian influenza can caused mild disease that may be undetected or show no symptoms at all in some species of birds.
“Once you’re tagged by OIE as bird flu-infected zone, we automatically ban importation in that country. We still don’t know how long this problem in the US will last,” Reano said.
Manila imports about 10 percent, or over 45 million kilos of chicken (leg quarters) and more than 110 million kilos of mechanically deboned meat from US suppliers annually.
The Philippines is also importing about 150,000-200,000 heads of US-grown breeders, which account for 50 percent of the total layers in the country.
As part of the government’s preparations, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is planning to recall the temporary suggested retail price (SRP) on chicken.
Reaño said maintaining the prevailing chicken price of P135 per kilo would encourage local growers and broiler sector to produce more breeder stocks should the government completely stop importation from mainland United States.
“I would recommend to Secretary [Proceso] Alcala to lift the temporary SRP to prevent broilers from culling excess breeder stocks and allow growers to produce more parent lines,” he said.
The DA and the Department of Trade and Industry implemented last week a P110 per kilo SRP for chicken in major markets in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, citing lower farmgate prices.
The lower SRP was meant for poultry raisers, who were losing money because of reported oversupply of chicken in cold storages and wide gap in prices in farmgate and retail, to dispense stocks.
Reaño, however, said the recent development in the US poultry industry, as well as reported bird flu cases in Europe and Canada, has forced them to reconsider the pricing mechanism.
The broiler sector resorts to early culling when there is an over-supply of chicken in the market.
Reaño explained that in the broiler sector, most of the grandparent stocks’ are owned by big corporations while parents’ stocks belong to small and medium businessmen, who sell them when they are between 30 and 35 days old. The backyard raisers, on the other hand, purchase one day-old chicks of the breeder stock.
As of last week, the country’s chicken inventory was around 20 million, which is much higher than the usual 8-9 million. Reaño, however, said the supply would only last for a month should broilers stop producing breeders.
He added that they have imported additional 200,000 breeders from US states that were not affected by bird flu to boost local stocks.