Agriculture Secretary William Dar has warned unscrupulous traders and wholesalers who unreasonably jack up prices of basic food items, particularly pork, saying that a government task force is now monitoring their activities and if found guilty would face stiff penalties under the law.

“We recently activated a sub-task group on economic intelligence under the IATF task group on food security (TGFS) that will focus on those who manipulate supply and prices of agricultural products at the expense of consumers,” the DA chief said during a virtual presser on January 25, 2021.

He issued the warning against “opportunistic” traders and wholesalers who are taking advantage of the tight supply of hogs to jack up prices. If found guilty, they would be penalized for up to P100 million.

“We admit that we have a limited population of hogs in Central Luzon due to the African Swine Fever or ASF since the early part of 2019, but traders and wholesalers are causing the spike in the prices of pork. They are making a large profit margin of more than P200 per kilo, between the farmgate price of live hogs and the retail price of pork in public markets. Talagang sobra ang kita nila,” said Secretary Dar.

“All evidence point against them, as production cost of hogs, ranges only from P105 to P150 per kilo, and the resulting farmgate price of up to P200 per kilo, while market retail prices go as high P400 per kilo. That’s a huge P200-profit margin,” he said.

He cited that hog raisers in Batangas, where farmgate prices range from P180 to P200 per kilo, said that a P70- to P80-margin between farmgate and market price is acceptable.

To prevent the further spike in the retail prices of pork and chicken, he said the DA is recommending that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte impose a price freeze on said food items, at P270/kg for kasim and pigue, P300/kg for liempo, and P160/kg for chicken meat.

Meanwhile, he said the DA is seeking help from the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to investigate traders and wholesalers suspected of manipulating the supply and prices of basic food items.

The DA is also partnering with the departments of interior and local government (DILG), trade and industry (DTI), and justice (DOJ), the Philippine National Police (PNP), and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) — who are members of the sub-task group on economic intelligence under the IATF task group on food security — to investigate, apprehend and prosecute profiteers and price manipulators.

Secretary Dar also warned individuals and entities who are floating the idea of a food shortage, stressing that “they have to substantiate such claims or face possible investigation for colluding with traders in order to cause panic among consumers. “There is no food crisis,” Secretary Dar said.

To stabilize food supply and prices in Metro Manila, particularly of pork, chicken, and vegetables, the DA is implementing immediate and medium-term strategies in partnership with farmers cooperatives and associations (FCAs), and hog raisers’ and poultry groups.

He directed the DA’s Bantay Presyo Task Force, in partnership with the Metro Manila Development (MMDA) and Local Price Coordinating Councils (LLPCs), to clamp down on unscrupulous traders and wholesalers He also instructed all DA regional field offices (RFOs) to increase transport of pork, chicken, and vegetables to Metro Manila markets, as well as Kadiwa outlets.

The DA will continue to coordinate with hog raisers in the Visayas and Mindanao to ship live hogs and “pork-in-a-box” to Metro Manila via 2GO and Oceanic shipping lines.

“The DA-Bureau of Animal Industry is now discussing with producers on slaughtering, packaging, and blast freezing of pork products, which could be sold at targeted areas around Metro Manila,” he added, adding that the shipping cost of these ‘pork-in-a-box’ will be subsidized by the DA’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

To augment the current pork supply, imported pork will start arriving in February from ASF-free countries, totaling 54,000 metric tons.

The DA will also launch a campaign, focusing on major markets and bagsakan centers like Divisoria, Balintawak, Nepa Q Mart, Marikina, Commonwealth, and Baclaran, where tarpaulins will be prominently displayed informing retailers and consumers on daily farmgate, wholesale, and retail prices of basic commodities.

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