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Salceda wants DA to invest in agri biosafety to fight ASF, infestations

April 28th, 2021

Salceda wants DA to invest in agri biosafety to fight ASF, infestations; Albay solon files bill to create national biosafety facility

House Ways and Means Chair Joey Sarte Salceda (Albay, 2nd district) has filed HB 9265 or the Animal Biosafety Act, which expands the mandate of the Bureau of Animal Industry and creates the National Biosafety Facility for research and development work on prevention and cure for diseases and infestations that could affect the country’s agriculture industry.

“While the DA is doing its best to fight the African Swine Fever (ASF), we are dependent on the research of other countries for this battle. We are able to do so because this is an international problem, but the moment we get problems that only we suffer from, we are on our own. We need our own biosafety investments to protect our own agriculture sector,” Salceda said.

The Albay representative cited local infestations as the ‘tungro’ virus, caused by grasshoppers who carry this disease from farm to farm, and which is now damaging crops in the rice-producing areas of Albay, as an example of local biosafety issues that could affect the country on a larger scale.

“These problems will only get bigger. We have to be equipped,” Salceda said.

“Even as the Department of Agriculture is taking aggressive steps to fight ASF, the current contagion and future biosafety risks will continue to threaten Philippine food security, especially as natural habitats carrying thus far undiscovered diseases become more exposed to interaction with farming communities,” Salceda explained in the accompanying note to his bill.

“The Committee on Ways and Means, in its hearings presided by this representation, also found that our ability to discover and prevent diseases, and develop vaccines and therapeutics for such diseases, is also limited, and we rely primarily on the research and due diligence of other countries,” Salcceda added.

Salceda says that he fears that “repopulation programs are in danger of becoming failures by being exposed to the same biosafety threats that culled populations were afflicted with. Institutional measures to make the animal industry more biosecure are necessary.”

National biosafety facility needed

Salceda’s biosafety bill contains the following features:

  1. Expanding the mandate of the Bureau of Animal Industry to include countering biosafety threats to the animal industry and working with other jurisdictions to control and eradicate transboundary animal diseases;
  2. Creating the Biosafety Program and the National Biosafety Facility as a research and information unit of the BAI for the prevention and eradication of biosafety risks such as the ASF;
  3. Mandating the Secretary of Agriculture to equip animal industry facilities such as slaughterhouses with biosafety features; and
  4. Directing that at least 10% of tariff revenues from imported meat (pork, beef, and chicken) be used to fund the country’s agricultural biosafety program for the first year of effectivity of the bill.

Salceda says that by using tariff proceeds to fund this year’s biosafety investments, farmers could at least directly benefit from an increase in import volumes.

“There has to be some balance each time we adjust policy. We are encouraging meat imports this year, to stabilize pork supply. That is sound policy, but there has to be a compensating action. Imports are a risk factor in biosafety. We have to compensate domestic producers for the risk. So, let’s use tariff revenues to invest in making domestic farms safer,” Salceda said.

Salceda adds that the earmarking is “just for this year” under his bill.

“I understand the problems with permanent earmarking. For the succeeding years, let’s take our biosafety investments from the national budget, but this year, let’s take from tariffs,” Salceda said.

“Biosafety is not a very expensive investment. But its rewards are immense. We should waste no time in doing them,” Salceda concluded.

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