By Izah Morales
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 13:09:00 03/02/2009   Filed Under: Animals, Food, Diseases, Agriculture, Consumer Issues

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE 2) A total of 795 hogs were culled Monday at a farm in Bulacan as over 5,000 more pigs are set to be slaughtered to prevent the spread of Ebola-Reston virus, officials said.

“We stopped operation with 795 heads done today. We will resume tomorrow at 7 a.m.,” said Davinio Catbagan, director of the Bureau of Animal Industry, in a text message to INQUIRER.net.

This brought to 1,237 the number of hogs culled since depopulation at the farm in Pandi town began Sunday afternoon.

The depopulation of hogs in Bulacan is expected to be completed by Wednesday, an official of the Department of Agriculture said Monday.

Security was tight with police checkpoints set up in the province to prevent reporters from getting close to the farm where traces of the non-lethal virus had been detected.

Even houses near the farm were being secured by police to keep outsiders away.

Eric Tayag, head of the National Epidemiology Center, told reporters that an electric stun-gun was being used to kill the pigs after which the carcasses were burned and then buried.

He said they hoped to slaughter a thousand pigs a day to complete the process within a week.

On Sunday, a total of 442 piglets in the Pandi farm were stunned and burned for two-and-a-half hours, said Davinio Catbagan, director Bureau of Animal Industry.

The culling was witnessed by the Food and Agriculture Organization, World Health Organization, and animal welfare groups such as the Philippine Animal Welfare Society and Animal Kingdom.

Aircraft were prevented from flying over the farm, Tayag said as he turned down a request from a local television station to shoot the scene from the air.

Anna Cabrera, program director of PAWS, said that the culling was done humanely but admitted that the transfer of the carcasses from the pigpens to the truck was mishandled.

“Some of the pigs loaded into trucks were handled by one leg, one ear. We talked with BAI Director Davinio Catbagan to ask the workers to refine the handling of pigs and we appreciate that he acted on it,” said Cabrera.
In a phone interview, Cabrera told INQUIRER.net that the hogs were crying out of hunger when they arrived.

“We asked the farm owner why they were crying. We learned that they have not eaten anything since Tuesday last week. Only water was given to the pigs. We appealed that they give food and they were fed yesterday before they were killed,” said Cabrera.

“We understood the farm owners. They lost an estimated P52 million but according to good husbandry, food and water should still be given until the death of the animals,” said Cabrera.

Aside from feeds for the pigs, Cabrera said they were appealing for the repair of some captive bolts that have malfunctioned during the killing.

“Because of the captive bolt that malfunctioned, police used 22 caliber rifles to shoot the other pigs,” said Cabrera.
According to the WHO, the strain infecting the pigs is not dangerous to humans, unlike the four deadly Ebola

The government earlier imposed a quarantine on two farms in Bulacan and Pangasinan provinces after samples found some pigs were carrying the Ebola-Reston strain. It was later found that the spread of the virus was only continuing in the farm in Pandi.

The strain was first found in laboratory monkeys exported from the Philippines to the US in 1989.

So far, six farmworkers and butchers have been found with the antibodies to Ebola Reston and scientists are still trying to determine if the six caught the virus from pigs.

If such a link is proved it would be the first time humans have contracted the disease from pigs.

PAWS statement on the pig culling:

Dear advocates,

PAWS was there to check on the culling of the first batch of pigs in Pandi, Bulacan last Sunday.

It was difficult and traumatic for our lone observer but the alternative scenario (not having an animal welfare advocate in the “Hot Zone”) could have been worse for the condemned pigs.

We gave our recommendations to the BAI and DOH on how to refine handling of the pigs. The distributor of some of the captive bolts have been in touch with us and we have referred them to BAI so that they can check on the ‘jammed’ equipment.

Last Sunday, PAWS found out that the pigs had not been fed since Tuesday – the reason why there was a ‘humming’ sound punctuated by frequent squealings coming from the pigs.

“Yang ugong na yan (That sound)”, the Farm Manager said. “Gutom yan (That is the sound of hunger)”.

Immediately we contacted Director Davinio Catbagan (BAI) who, in turn, assured the Farm Manager that funds will be released for the continuing upkeep of the pigs. As a result, the pigs were fed that Sunday- before the first batch of killings started.

It is important to note that many of the then-hungry pigs will still be alive, awaiting execution until the projected last day – Friday.

We are in touch with Director Catbagan every day to check on the feeding of the pigs.

Yesterday, he sent PAWS Program Director, Anna Cabrera, this text message:

“Yes, Anna, your concern is not only BAI’s official concern but my personal concern as well. I have been in touch with the ground, monitoring the whole day up to late last night to ensure, among others, proper handling and continuous feeding.”

The last batch of pigs to be killed would be the biggest ones (sows weighing 110kilos or more), and this is where humane handling becomes more difficult.

PAWS will be there to check if its recommendations have been implemented.

We would like to thank Dr. Catbagan, Dr.Minda Manantan of the NMIS, Dr. Eric Tayag and all the members of his staff from the Department of Health (DOH) and our friends from The Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF), PETA Asia- Pacific and Earth Island Institute Philippines (EII-Phils) for their continuing support.

Please help us be vigilant and pray that the end would be quick and humane for these poor condemned animals.

Thank you.

-The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)