Let's have ASF answers

Let's have ASF answers

A butcher prepares pork for a customer at Phran Nok Market in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. Thailand imposed a ban on pork exports from Jan. 6 to April 5, as prices in the major producer soar amid a shortage of the meat. (Photo: Bloomberg)
A butcher prepares pork for a customer at Phran Nok Market in Bangkok, Thailand, on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. Thailand imposed a ban on pork exports from Jan. 6 to April 5, as prices in the major producer soar amid a shortage of the meat. (Photo: Bloomberg)

An enraged public, battered by Covid-19 and rising living costs, is expecting heads to roll following allegations that livestock department officials covered up an African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak that has been blamed for soaring pork prices.

A target of criticism has been vet Sorawit Thanito, director-general of the Department of Livestock Development (DLD). Until Tuesday evening when the department finally admitted that ASF existed on a local farm, for over two years Mr Sorawit insisted that Thailand was the only country in the region free of ASF.

Mr Sorawit has said the ASF positive sample does not indicate an outbreak in the country and added that the DLD and Chulalongkorn University are collaborating to develop a world-first vaccine to subdue the disease.

But now the government needs to set up a transparent fact-finding mission -- consisting of neutral members -- to investigate how ASF has been managed. As part of that, the government needs to probe whether the DLD did cover up the disease in the country as they have been accused of doing.

So far the public and local pig farmers have been left dumbstruck by the DLD's display of unusual aloofness and nonchalance.

Conspicuously out-of-sight have been agricultural minister Chalermchai Sri-on and his deputy Prapat Pothasuthon, who is tasked with overseeing the DLD.

Both have just engaged with the issue publicly as of Tuesday.

The DLD chief cannot be the only one under scrutiny over the issue. Elected politicians sent to oversee the agriculture ministry should be as well.

The public needs to be aware that the current government has acknowledged the ASF risk since 2019 when they put an ASF campaign on the national agenda and gave the DLD 120 million baht to fight the disease.

There are now many questions.

How did the DLD use these funds? How did it let such a serious animal disease fall off the radar? How can the department seemingly turn a blind eye to how 50% of local swine stock disappeared within a year?

As the ASF was made a national priority, the government, as well as the agriculture minister and his deputy, owe the public an explanation about what they have been doing over the last two years and how they let what has eventuated happen.

Without a forthright explanation, allegations of a whitewash can only gain weight.

Whitewash and coverup accusations are nothing new in Thai politics, especially in the lucrative livestock industry where news of an outbreak can result in huge losses for the export and food processing industries.

During 2004's bird flu, the DLD -- then under the Thaksin Shinawatra government -- was berated for downplaying the human-transmissible poultry disease.

At that time, despite the lives of 16 people being claimed by the disease and 60 million poultry being culled because of the late response, no one was held accountable while accompanying accusations of whitewash were left uninvestigated.

The government went on to compensate poultry farmers while PM Thaksin and his politicians ate local chicken at PR events in a bid to allay public fears.

Having said that, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will see his already sagging popularity sinking beyond rescue if he fails to properly probe the ASF whitewash allegation and ensure that there is accountability.

Hopefully, Gen Prayut can do better than disburse compensation to affected pig farmers and tell the public to eat cooked pork meat.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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