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Pig farmers squeal over pork import threat

Published:Wednesday | February 5, 2020 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer

The Jamaica Pig Farmers' Association (JPFA) has called the first of four regional meetings for Thursday to apprise farmers of renewed threats to the local pork industry.

Jamaica imported 49,483 kilograms of fresh pork from the United States last year even though the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries maintains that it did not issue any licences for the period.

Statistical Institute of Jamaica data show that the total volume of pork parts classified as “meat of swine other than carcasses, half-carcasses, hams, shoulders or cuts thereof frozen” imported last year was valued at US$184,702. That includes pork bellies.

Pig’s tail is imported in brine.

The concern emerges amid the resurgence of African swine fever (ASF), which has reportedly killed at least 40 million pigs in China, the world’s larger pork producer and consumer, wiped out six million in Vietnam, and is now spreading to parts of Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.

In an advertorial published in The Sunday Gleaner of January 26, 2020, the JPFA sought to assure Jamaicans that locally produced pork was still safe to eat and remained a healthful choice.

“ASF only impacts animals and has no human health or food safety risks. It has also never been present in Jamaica.

“To date, there is no known cure or vaccine for ASF and the disease can be spread by both live and dead pigs. The only solution is a stringent and all-encompassing national prevention and control system,” the association’s statement read.

Against this background, it is concerned about the decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) last December to make major changes to its pork inspection rules – the first in 50 years.

America’s meat inspectors warned that ‘unsafe’ pork is likely finding its way to consumers because of a relaxation in the meat inspection regimen, NBC reported on December 16, 2019.

In traditional plants, as many as seven federal inspectors work on the processing line, handling hog carcasses and checking for defects. Under the Trump administration’s new paradigm, that number will be reduced to two or three federal inspectors who have more experience but who will have limited hands-on interaction with carcasses.

Instead, the plant’s own employees will be checking and sorting the hog carcasses and letting the federal consumer-safety inspectors assess their work from a distance. There is no required federal training for those employees.