MANILA – The Department of Agriculture on Monday said it will seek new price limits on pork and chicken meat to address the price hikes caused by the African swine fever outbreak.
A group of hog raisers and poultry farmers meanwhile blasted the proposal saying this would put local farmers at a disadvantage, and urged the government to freeze meat imports instead.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said they're proposing to cap the price of pork ham (pigue) at P270 per kilo and P300 per kilo for pork belly (liempo).
Dar said they hope to have President Rodrigo Duterte sign the executive order this week, which will also set a price ceiling on whole chicken at P160 per kilo.
Based on DA's monitoring, prices of pork ham rose to an average of P350/kg this month from P280/kg in December.
Pork belly prices have also spiked to P400/kg this month from P320/kg in December.
Meanwhile, prices of whole chicken have also started to inch higher as consumers shift to alternative meat for pork.
Whole chicken now sells for P170/kg from December's P165/kg.
These prices are all above the Department of Trade and Industry’s suggested retail price (SRP) of P260/kg for pork ham, P290/kg for pork belly, and P140/kg for chicken.
Dar insisted that the high prices are caused not just by supply constraints brought about by ASF, but also because of “manipulation” by traders and wholesalers.
“Ang nakita po namin noong pagpunta ko doon sa Batangas last Saturday, ang mga traders na ang nagdidikta ng farmgate price. Nag-uunahan sila at ito na 'yung sila 'yung nagmamanipula at talagang sobra na 'yung profit nila," Dar said.
(What we saw when we went to Batangas last Saturday was that it was the traders who were dictating the farmgate price. They were trying to get ahead of each other and they were manipulating [the prices] and were really profiting excessively.)
He added, farmgate prices of pork have been ranging between P160 to P200/kg.
'TRANSPORT COSTS, NOT MANIPULATION'
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) meanwhile said prices are high in Metro Manila because traders have to source pork and chicken from as far as Ilocos and Bicol as ASF has decimated hog farms near the capital.
SINAG said the farmgate prices of pork now range between P230 to 250 per kilo in Luzon, while chicken farmgate prices range between P115 to P120 per kilo.
“How will traders bring these to Metro Manila?” said SINAG chair Rosendo So.
Prices of feeds and inputs have also gone up, SINAG said.
So added that many farmers have opted not to raise hogs any more because of worries that ASF would result in further losses. Many poultry farms meanwhile have ceased operating because of the flood of cheap imports, So said.
So also accused the government of prioritizing importers over local farmers.
"Hindi na nga natulungan ang industriya sa gitna ng pananalanta ng African swine fever, pahihirapan pa kami ngayon at ang mga pork importers pa ang gustong isa-subsidize," said SINAG chairman Rosendo So.
(The industry didn't get any help against the ravages of African swine fever, and now they even want to make things more difficult for us, and subsidize pork importers.)
The group also blamed the DA for its “incapacity” to keep meat products contaminated with ASF from entering the country.
“Hindi matatapos ang pork supply shortage at ASF, at ang pananalasa ng iba pang animal disease gaya ng bird flu hanggang bukas na bukas ang pantalan natin,” So said.
(The pork supply shortage won’t end, and neither will the devastation by other animal diseases like bird flu, while our ports are very open.)
MONITORING ‘BAGSAKAN’ CENTERS
The government meanwhile said it will step up its monitoring of markets where traders and wholesalers drop off meat products.
"Another strategy po namin dito po sa Metro Manila, alam po namin kung saan binabagasak 'yung ng mga traders and wholesalers. At ito 'yung pinagkasunduan din namin with MMDA (Metropolitan Manila Development Authority) na ito 'yung isang tutukan."
(Another strategy of ours in Metro Manila, we know where traders and wholesalers drop off supplies. And we have an agreement with the MMDA to monitor these areas.
Dar said these are the Balintawak, Commonwealth, Divisoria, Baclaran, and Nepa Q-Mart public markets.
These makers will be under strict surveillance from the DA, the MMDA, the local government units, and the Department of Trade and Industry, Dar said.
Dar said they are also coordinating with the intelligence unit of the Philippine National Police (PNP) as well as the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to clamp down on the alleged profiteers.
On top of the price ceilings and increased regulation, Dar said, they're also pushing to increase the number of pork imports, as well as investing in rapid test kits and securing vaccines being developed by the United Kingdom and Vietnam against ASF.
The Philippines seeks to import 54,000 metric tons of pork from the US and European countries starting Feb. 1 to address the local supply shortage.
Over 4 million supply of hogs were lost due to ASF -- 400,000 died of the flu, while the rest resulted from hog raisers opting not to raise hogs amid the flu, the DA has said.
The high cost of pork and chicken were among the factors that pushed inflation to a 22-month high in December last year.
Official inflation figures for January are set to be released on Feb. 5
- With a report from Bruce Rodriguez, ABS-CBN News