By Genalyn Kabiling and Franco Regala
City Of San Fernando, Pampanga – Now that the bird flu outbreak has been contained, President Duterte has assured the nation that it is now safe to eat chicken and other poultry products from Pampanga and Nueva Ecija.
The President dispelled concerns about avian flu and its effect on food safety by feasting on chicken barbecue, hard-boiled eggs, and balut during his visit in San Fernando, Pampanga.
Duterte was accompanied by Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Pampanga Gov. Lilia Pineda, and other officials during the chicken “boodle fight.”
Also with the President were Governors Czarina Umali of Nueva Ecija and Wilhelmino Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan, Vice Governors Dennis Pineda of Pampanga and Daniel Fernando of Bulacan; and other concerned stakeholders in the campaign dubbed “Sama-sama, Tulong-tulong sa Pagbangon at Pagsulong.”
“I assure the public that the poultry products in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija are safe for consumption and that we in government are undertaking efforts to stamp out the outbreak and minimize its impact in the country,” the President said in his remarks.
“Wala namang human transmission, eh. So I came here just to eat the chicken and the eggs and the balut to assure the public na hindi ho delikado. Tapos na,” he said.
Duterte pledged to help the poultry industry recover from the avian flu incident as well as intensify government efforts to prevent a repeat of the outbreak in the country.
“We ask the full cooperation and assistance, not only of the poultry industry, but also of the general public to make sure that disease outbreaks such as this are reported to authorities at the onset of their occurrence,” he added.
He said the government’s goal is to put the poultry industry “back into the path of high growth and progress so that it can continue to contribute to our nation’s food security and to our economic growth.”
During the avian flu outbreak, a total of 421,132 birds were culled in affected farms in San Luis, Pampanga, to prevent the spread of the bird flu. Another 70,576 were disposed of in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, and 100,421 in Jaen, Nueva Ecija, to contain the outbreak.
In his remarks, the President commended the Department of Agriculture (DA) for its swift action in “squarely confronting and containing the avian flu outbreak” in the country.
He said he was grateful for the solidarity and cooperation of the local officials and people of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija in stamping out the avian flu in their areas.
“I also appreciate the more than 300 soldiers and police officers for their help and valuable assistance. Your timely and rapid response to this outbreak is truly praiseworthy,” he said.
Duterte offered his apology for the culling of thousands of birds that affected the livelihood of poultry farmers. He promised that he would try to increase financial assistance to them.
“To help the industry recover, the government, through the Department of Agriculture, will assist in the affected poultry raisers in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija to defray their losses through interventions such as loans and capacity building trainings,” he said.
He personally awarded indemnity checks amounting to P29 million as initial payment to poultry owners in Pampanga and Nueva Ecija and awarded certificates of appreciation to hundreds of military and police personnel who helped contain the spread of the virus.
San Luis town, which was the source of the bird flu outbreak where some 37, 000 birds were culled received an indemnity check of P20,723,797. The payment was received by the town’s Mayor Venancio Asiong Macapagal.
Others who received the indemnity checks were Ruperto Vicmudo of Barangay Laub in of Mexico, Pampanga (P2, 538, 640); Manuel Ortiz of MMJ Layer Farm in San Isidro, Nueva Ecija (P5, 516, 000); Mary Grace Castro’s quail farm (P209, 250), and Magdalena Nagum (P149, 870), both in Jaen, Nueva Ecija.
The affected farmers can also avail themselves of P20-million loan without collateral and interest from the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) through the Rural Bank of San Luis.
Secretary Pinol said that the estimated total amount of indemnification is P50 million while the total funds taken from livestock and poultry programs amounted to P52 million.
He said the government’s responses to the bird flu outbreak was a success despite the confirmation from the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE)-accredited Australia laboratory that the Pampanga avian flu strain was transmissible to humans.
After the bird flu outbreak, he said there was a drastic drop in the demand for chicken products. Farm gate prices, he added, dropped to only P15 per kilo from P90 per kilo. Millions of eggs were spoiled and people lost jobs.
Agriculture officials had said earlier that it will take another four months before poultry farmers in affected areas will be allowed to raise chicken, ducks, and quails.
Meanwhile, Central Luzon governors assured the public that chicken and other poultry products in their provinces are safe to eat. “In Bulacan, we are regulating the industry to support the actions of the national government,’’ said Gover nor Sy Alvarado.
“Masaya kami dahil ang Pampanga ay na-declare na rin bird flu-free, kaya hinihikayat natin ang ating mga kababayan na bumili ng ating mga manok,’’ said Gover nor Pineda.
Since the outbreak was reported, the total number of chickens, ducks and gamefowls culled in the provinces of Pampanga and Nueva Ecija have reached more than 600,000. There were also 115,000 quails culled in Nueva Ecija.
Earlier, Lubao Mayor Mylyn Pineda Cayabyab, Vice Mayor Tito Diaz and Councilor John Susi led a “boodle fight” last Friday’s at the Sta. Cruz public market to prove that chickens and eggs are safe for human consumption. (With a report from Freddie Velez)
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