The smuggled pork saga is getting more rotten and its foul smell seems to be travelling afar as the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) has unveiled more details about its ongoing probe.
The DSI's five-month investigation reveals a shocking fact for consumers: smuggled porks has entered the supply chain and ended up on sale at supermarkets and hypermarkets, not to mention fresh markets.
Moreover, the probe shows that officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, food-importing companies and politicians were all likely involved.
The impact is wide-ranging. The image of the country as the so-called "kitchen of the world" and a hub of wellness has been tainted as a result of the rampant level of smuggled pork.
But the hardest-hit party is undoubtedly the pork industry, as it has been weathering heavy competition from the smuggled pork which sells for half the price of local products.
The case reflects how smugglers have grown increasingly bold. Indeed, the news was relatively muted when it was first reported in April. The 161 containers of illegal cargo would probably have been forgotten had not the Swine Raisers Association kept up its pressure on the DSI to take up the case.
The 161 containers in question had been stranded at Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri province since April. They were found to be storing 4.5 kilogrammes of pork sent from the Americas and Europe. Most of the cargo had been declared as fresh seafood (pork innards as commonly used as feedstuff at aquatic farms).
It remains a mystery how the customs department and officials from the Department of Livestock and Department of Fisheries failed to check and arrest the importing companies from day one.
So far, the DSI's investigation has led to eight people being charged for importing illicit pork, including two major food importers, a supplier of major retailers and a major wholesaler.
"The illegal pork was sold to wholesalers and distributed to retailers. These traders must bear legal responsibility, too", said DSI director-general Pol Maj Suriya Singhakamol.
The confiscated pork is believed to represent just 5% of the smuggled products that were distributed and sold countrywide at dirt-cheap prices. The expanded probe revealed that smugglers have brought in 2,385 containers of illegal pork, worth about 3 billion baht, since 2020.
Smuggled pork is destroying the local swine industry. The hardest-hit group is a network of small-scale farmers with around 200,000 members. This group has struggled for three years since an outbreak of African Swine Fever (AFS) and low demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. The illegal pork saga merely rubs more salt in their wounds. In the long run, big business will also be affected.
The government, especially the Ministry of Agriculture, must not spare any of the wrongdoers. Agriculture Minister Capt Thamanat Prompow must launch a probe to see how far the smuggling has been going and whether any former politicians are involved, as the media claims.
Apart from the officials and importers, retailers and wholesalers trading with these firms must be probed. As of now, all markets and traders that sell pork products are staying silent. But this is not good for public health. Sooner rather than later, they must show the public the source of their pork to win back trust.