Senator Imee Marcos has warned that tripling the country’s pork imports given a tax discount could push the country’s cold chain capacity beyond its limits to handle Covid-19 vaccines in the coming months.

“We may end up with spoiled meat and spoiled vaccines,” Marcos said.

“The National Task Force has not yet figured out cold chain logistics for the arrival and delivery of vaccines and here we are complicating the problem with a plan to triple the minimum access volume (MAV) of pork imports,” Marcos added.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said that the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines has pegged its operating capacity at 70% of its full capacity of 400,000 metric tons.

“Even if cold chain capacity increases by 10% to 15% or about 40,000 metric tons more according to the government’s roadmap in December, this may not accommodate a tripled MAV of 162,000 metric tons that will spur more pork imports,” Marcos explained.

“The government must decide if it will convert for vaccines the existing cold chain facilities for food and how to counter the economic setbacks of that conversion to the cold chain industry,” Marcos said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) earlier recommended increasing the MAV for pork imports from the present 54,000 metric tons to bring down high market prices amid a reported supply shortage due to African swine fever (ASF).

Hog raisers have criticized the DA for putting their livelihood at greater risk since the MAV’s lower tariff for pork imports would make small and medium-scale entrepreneurs even less competitive and push them to shut down their businesses.

“The immediate solution to inflated pork prices is NOT importation. It is the direct and extensive government intervention to assist hog raisers! DA should use its vehicles, personnel and assets, all its resources to transport hogs to Manila, especially from the Visayas and Mindanao,” Marcos said.

Marcos cited that providing biosecurity equipment like ASF test kits will reduce production costs for hog raisers, following complaints reaching her office from those in General Santos City (GenSan) and South Cotabato.

“Quarantines just from one adjacent province to the next may require farm workers’ dorms, costly Covid-19 testing, PNP and other travel documentation. Add to that the problems of limited trucks allowed on the road, curfew restrictions, and restricted gasoline supplies,” Marcos said.

“How much more from GenSan and Mindanao to the NCR (National Capital Region) – with domestic shipping and cabotage distortions making local shipments more expensive than international shipments?” Marcos pointed out.