To this day, despite efforts by various administrations, there seems to never be enough rice produced by local farmers, necessitating occasional imports from neighboring countries in the ASEAN region. It has also prompted government campaigns to promote the "other staple," corn, which is the grain of choice for many in the Visayas and Mindanao.
But it is not only rice that's been facing a shortage in the Philippines.
For all you know, the meat for the pork adobo or sisig you just ordered at your favorite Philippine restaurant may have been imported!
Shocking as it may be, the Philippines continues to import pork, pork fat and pig offal (organ meats). In 2016, total pork imports by the Philippines amounted to 275,000 metric tons -- that 275 million kilograms!
There was a time when your next-door neighbors raised pigs and would occasionally share some butchered meat with you in exchange for regular food scraps (kaning baboy) to feed to their livestock.
But as the population grew in leaps and bounds, the supply of pork lagged behind the demand. Even commercial hog raisers couldn't keep up.
It is not necessarily the lack of investor interest that's the culprit. Many are willing but are held back by imposed restrictions and meat quality standards. The meat industry is highly vulnerable to incidents of parasite and bacterial infection that can wipe out an entire livestock or cause poisoning among consumers. Financiers are just not willing to assume the high risk or implement strict and expensive quality standards.
The Philippine agency in charge of overseeing food safety may not have the resources and expertise that would approximate the strict standards of, say, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In a way, Western dietary culture makes it a convenient excuse for countries like the U.S. to export what is trimmed or discarded from its pork meat, like fat and offal.
Could Filipino cuisine be adding to higher demand for pork?
Think about what you see in restaurant menus. Other than the popular pork adobo, kare-kare, crispy pata and sisig, there are regional dishes that have now gone mainstream: dinakdakan, bopis, pinakbet, batchoy and many others that all use pork meat and organs as ingredients.
If you frequent Filipino groceries or supermarkets in the U.S. or elsewhere, think about the popular chicharron (pork rinds). Perhaps it may occur to you that the pork skin of your chicharron was imported from the U.S., manufactured in the Philippines and exported back to America. But many are willing to pay the price; all in the name of Filipino comfort food.
As for the future of the pork industry in the Philippines, the local demand and the potential for investments could make for a positive outlook for those who are willing and able to adhere to quality and safety standards.
Rene Astudillo is a writer, book author and blogger and has recently retired from more than two decades of nonprofit community work in the Bay Area. He spends his time between California and the Philippines.
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