July 17, 2017
A Filipino food safety expert expressed doubt on July 13 that the Philippines could truly claim to be less prone to food-borne diseases despite having nurtured a reputation of being free of high-profile animal diseases like bird flu and FMD for years.
Addressing the Manila leg of the Diamond V Asian Tour, Dr. April Shayne Lobaton-Sulabo, assistant professor at the Institute of Food Science and Technology, University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB), claimed that Southeast Asia, which includes the Philippines, had the highest incidence of food-borne diseases among the regions in the world.
She said the top disease-causing pathogens common in the country and in Southeast Asia were salmonella, E. coli, clostridium and campylobacter. The Philippines, according to her, lacked adequate surveillance facilities to keep track of disease incidents involving these pathogens.
"So we can't with certainty claim the Philippines is less prone to pathogen incidents than other countries. We don't know. We don't have the data," she said.
For years, the Philippines has maintained a reputation of being free of avian influenza, which ravaged poultry farms in many parts of Asia, particularly Thailand, Vietnam and China, in 2003.
It has also kept a reputation of being free of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) among its livestock, although more than 100 countries were reported to have been infected during the 2013 epidemic.
Diamond V's Asian Tour is a technical lecture series for animal industry professionals, food company executives and other stakeholders in the feed and meat industry.
This inaugural lecture swing has made stops in Thailand (July 3-5), Indonesia (July 5-7), Vietnam (July 10-12) and, finally, in the Philippines (July 12-14).
In Manila, the "by invitation only" event was held at the Crown Plaza Manila Galleria hotel in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila. Nearly 200 people attended the one-day event, including feed millers, livestock farm operators and representatives from agribusiness conglomerates, among other stakeholders.
The current tour was to conclude in Cebu, also in the Philippines, on July 15 with the same speakers.
Two Diamond V animal health experts - Darin Henry, director of North American ruminant business; and Dr. Jason Frank, director of non-ruminant research and technical support also spoke at the Manila event.
Henry warned that "many pathogens found today in farms in Asia and around the world are cause for concern." Citing salmonella, E. coli, clostridium, campylobacter and staphylococcus, he said "these pathogens impact not only the health of the animals but also the overall economics of production".
Beyond these concerns, he added "there is the much larger impact on food safety and public health".
Asia, according to Henry, continues to rely on antibiotics to contain the problem. But antibiotic resistance is equally a growing health menace, he said. Hence, "a pathogen risk control must be in place from the farm to the table".
In his morning lecture, Dr. Frank spoke about alternatives to antibiotics in pathogen reduction and disease prevention.
He said antibiotics have been in use in the livestock industry since the 1950s. But growing concern among consumers about increasing antibiotic resistance among humans has prompted governments around the world to ban or limit the use of AGPs or antibiotic growth promoters.
Without doubt, he explained, the industry can make do without antibiotics. But "the change will take time, effort and multiple strategies."
"There is no single solution to this challenge," Dr. Frank admitted, even as he frowned upon the hundreds of solutions being offered around. "We must be vigilant and remain critical of the on-farm interventions available."
In his afternoon lecture, Dr. Frank unveiled Diamond V's natural, nutritional health programmes which, he said, had been proven effective in controlling pathogen risks in on-farm or pre-harvest stages of animal production.
These programmes, he added, had also been shown to reduce or completely eliminate the need for antibiotics.
- F.E Olimpo