Posted: Thursday, August 5, 2021. 5:37 pm CST.
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The African Swine Fever is devastating the pig industry in the Dominican Republic, so the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise (MAFSE) is launching a campaign to make sure it doesn’t enter Belize.
Minister Jose Abelardo Mai said Belize stands to lose $30 million if the African Swine Fever were to attack the pig industry.
Minister Mai was speaking at a virtual press conference on African Swine Fever held on Thursday afternoon by MAFSE to sensitive Belize about the disease that is affecting the Dominican Republic and threatens the region.
“As a country we cannot afford to have this dreadful disease in our country and we at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security, and Enterprise along with our local and international partners will do everything to keep it out,” Mai said.
The Agriculture Minister said that the pig industry is made up of 40,000 to 45,000 animals and is worth between $30 to $30.4 million presently.
“The industry provides 3,500 jobs on farms and slaughtering facilities, jobs that are desperately needed by rural families especially during this difficult post COVID recovery era,” Mai said. “Today the agriculture sector is well on his way to recovery.”
Mai said we have never had the disease in Belize but that if it were to enter it can have disastrous effects.
Director of Animal Health Dr. Miguel DePaz said the disease has 100% mortality and that there is no vaccine to combat it. African Swine Fever, he said, is spread by a virus that is highly contagious. However, both he and Minister Mai said that it cannot be transmitted from animals to people.
The African Swine Fever can be brought in by the importation of live pigs or pork products. Dr DePaz said that because of that Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) has to do risk assessment at entry points.
BAHA Acting Managing Director Francisco Gutierrez said this is not a disease we can live with but that containment is manageable. He said BAHA has protocols in place to contain the entry of different diseases and that in cases like this where there is the possibility of entry of African Swine Fever they step up their containment procedures at all ports of entry. Moreover, Gutierrez said BAHA does not allow importation of pigs from countries that have cases of African Swine Fever.
He said BAHA is at a heightened state of readiness to protect Belize from the entry of African Swine Fever and stressed that there needs to be a collaboration between BAHA and other related agencies.
Beyond that, to combat diseases like the African Swine Fever, international collaboration is necessary. To that end, the International Regional Agricultural Health Organization (OIRSA) director Fermin Blanco said OIRSA declared a regional emergency once the disease affected the Dominican Republic.
Blanco said that to contain the disease from spreading to other countries of the region, it is urgent to assist the Dominican Republic in its fight against the disease.
China had to eradicate half of its pig population, approximately 3 million pigs, some time ago.
Dr. DePaz said many diseases are introduced through international flights so their ‘wet garbage’ is incinerated. He added that cruise ships cannot leave their wet garbage in the country.
Minister Mai said the Ministry’s awareness campaign is important because people need to know that the African Swine Fever can be introduced by anyone who brings in pork products in their personal food such as sandwiches.
Mai said that the disease can also be brought in through products imported illegally.
The Agriculture Minister said that Cabinet is at this time about to approve the implementation of X-ray machines at high-risk entry points. He said that the Ministry of Agriculture is moving in that direction at the insistence and assistance of OIRSA.
Mai said that these X-ray machines are able to identify cooked and uncooked meats. The X-ray machine will be complemented by canine units said Mai who explained that Belize is the only country in Central America that doesn’t have X-Ray machines at entry points.
Ministry of Agriculture Communications Director Luis Pook said the Ministry of Agriculture will continue its education and sensitization campaign.
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