‘Food holiday’ threats brushed off as DA assures Metro Manila supply is adequate

THE DEPARTMENT of Agriculture (DA) said the flow of agricultural produce to Metro Manila will continue even with hog raisers threatening to declare a so-called “food holiday” to protest inadequate government help in addressing the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak and plans to import more pork.

Agriculture Spokesman Noel O. Reyes said farmers and fisherfolk will continue to produce food and asked those planning to declare a food holiday to abandon the idea.

“We should help each other during this time, especially with the pandemic. We are hoping that it will not push through,” Mr. Reyes said in a radio interview Wednesday.

“The threat of a holiday is unfounded and baseless. We are encouraging our farmers, fisherfolk, and those in agribusiness trade to continue the delivery of agricultural products to Metro Manila,” he added.

Nicanor M. Briones, Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, Inc. Chairman-Elect, said in a separate radio interview that the idea of declaring a food holiday arose after the “failure” of the DA to address the issues of the local hog sector such as the ongoing ASF outbreak. 

Mr. Briones said that aside from pork products, the planned food holiday will include other products such as chicken, fish, vegetables, and rice.

“There is no final date yet on when the food holiday will be. But we are looking at doing it for around three to five days,” Mr. Briones said.

“There is support from other farmers such as poultry raisers, fishermen, and crop farmers,” he added.

Earlier in the year, the DA projected a pork deficit of around 400,000 metric tons (MT) after the ASF outbreak depleted hog inventories.

As a result, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Executive Order No. 128 on April 7 that lowered the tariff rates on pork imports within the minimum access volume (MAV) quota to 5% in the first three months and 10% in the following nine months.

Tariff rates for out-of-quota pork imports were also reduced to 15% in the first three months and to 20% in the succeeding nine months.

After one year, the tariff rates of both in-quota and out-of-quota pork imports will return to their previous levels of 30% and 40%, respectively.

MAV is applied to farm commodities that are charged lower tariffs under the World Trade Organization trading system.

Mr. Duterte also submitted a recommendation to Congress to increase the MAV import quota by 350,000 MT, on top of the current 54,210 MT allocation, in order to augment supply.

The DA also implemented a suggested retail price for imported pork shoulder (kasim) of P270 per kilogram and imported pork belly (liempo) of P350 per kilogram.

The Department of Finance and the National Economic and Development Authority have said at Senate hearings of the Committee of the Whole that the entry of more pork imports at lower tariffs will not kill the hog industry while benefiting consumers.

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III told senators that the government will lose P13.68 billion in potential revenue due to lower tariffs, but will result in consumer savings of P67.38 billion.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua said the volume of pork imports will be moderated by the lack of cold storage capacity. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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