The Department of Agriculture (DA) is considering temporary suspension of the inter-island movement of live hogs as the agency investigates the skyrocketing prices of pork in the country.

A draft DA administrative order has called for “temporary suspension of inter-island movement to Visayas and Mindanao as permitted areas of coverage of all mainland Luzon-based Livestock Transport Carriers used to pick-up and transport live hogs from the islands of Visayas and Mindanao to mainland Luzon.”

pork - Suspension of inter-island live hogs’ movement eyed
MB file (Photo by Keith Bacongco)

“This is to arrest the spread of ASF [African Swine Fever] to protect remaining disease-free areas in the country by enhancing current biosecurity protocols,” the AO said.

“The BAI’s [Bureau of Animal Industry] Veterinary Quarantine Station personnel at domestic port of embarkation shall cause the immediate stoppage of said carriers. The violators shall be sanctioned [accordingly],” the draft AO added.

So far, ASF has already resulted in the death and culling of more than 300,000 hogs in the country, with Luzon being the hardest hit island region.  

The planned ASF containing measure was hatched as Agriculture Secretary William Dar ordered a probe on high pork prices on suspicion that some traders are deliberately withholding the release of pork products in the market.

But traders said the border controls mulled by the DA could further push pork prices higher. Business Bulletin asked Dar if he is still keen to sign the said AO, but he is yet to reply.

Rosendo So, chairman of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), said such move, once signed, will “kill hog farmers from Visayas and Mindanao” because of oversupply, while further result in a spike of pork prices in Luzon.  

As of October 21, prices of kasim (pork ham) already reached P320 per kilogram (/kg) while liempo (pork belly) is priced at P360/kg in most Metro Manila public markets.

This is P20 to P40 more compared to prices of P300/kg and P320/kg, respectively, for these two pork products two weeks ago.

Now, the DA thinks it’s the errant hog growers and traders who are behind this price increases.

Based on data, there is a significant inventory of both locally-slaughtered and imported pork in cold storage facilities accredited by the DA’s National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS). 

As of the third week of October, the inventory of frozen pork, both local and imported, in DA-NMIS-accredited cold storages nationwide even went up by 55 percent to 38,216 metric tons (MT).

 “We’re looking into reasons why there’s very slow withdrawal of frozen pork products despite the availability of supply, and demand has started to pick up as the government opens up the economy,” Dar said.

He said the DA will ask the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to also conduct a parallel probe for possible violation of the Philippine Competition Act by traders that may be manipulating pork supply.

To recall, the DA has an existing agreement with the PCC on information exchange, investigation and enforcement, as well as action plans through shared resources to limit and put a stop to anti-competitive practices.

For So, the price increase in pork is a result of the DA’s failure to bring in the supply of the commodity from Visayas and Mindanao to Luzon.

He also questioned DA’s assumption that there may be hog raisers manipulating the supply of pork.

“How can there be a cartel if 65 percent of pork comes from backyard or small farmers,” So said. “Price manipulation does not happen among hog raisers, it happens among traders and importers at retail.” Instead, he urged to run after the real cartels. “Name names and file a case please,” he further said. 

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