The government's crackdown on pork smugglers is good news, if not overdue. The unbridled smuggling of such a basic food ingredient violates the law, impairs the country's food hygiene standards, and undermines small-scale swine farms.
The Department of Thai Customs officially announced this week that all pork smuggling cases will go to court, and the department will fight lawsuits to make sure arrested smugglers will be prosecuted with maximum penalties.
Such a vigilant policy follows Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Sunday ordering related agencies to work hard and fast in stamping out smugglers.
The PM’s response came after an official from the Department of Livestock was shot dead, and another injured after a cold storage room was searched in Phetchabun province on Oct 11. The arrested shooter is a local business owner who got angry when the officials found 1,000kg of contraband meat in his freezers.
Police found the storage had been in operation for years and had no permit.
This case is part of a broader problem, with another example being a case in April that saw officials seize 161 shipping containers at Laem Chabang Port in Chon Buri province, where they found 4.5 million kg of pork products sent from the Americas and Europe.
So now the bigger question is whether law enforcement has sufficient resources to deal with the burgeoning problem.
So far, the government’s crackdown has focused on Laem Chabang Port. Meanwhile, smugglers have expanded their routes to porous borders on the east through the Mekong River.
As for consumers, they are largely clueless about whether the barbecue pork or minced pork balls they are eating might be under-the-counter products.
The sector that bears the heaviest impact is small-scale swine farmers that have only just recovered from the Covid-19 pandemic and African Swine Fever (AFS), which resulted in 10 million pigs disappearing from the market.
The confiscated pork is believed to represent just 5% of the smuggled products distributed and sold countrywide at dirt-cheap prices — 50% of the local market price or less. Moreover, consumers can order such products from social media platforms like Facebook.
Given the scope of the problem, the government cannot just focus on arresting wrongdoers. Related agencies such as the agriculture, commerce, and public health ministries need to work together to create a system to ensure products in the market are legal and safe to eat, while businesses that patronise under-the-counter goods need to be punished.
The commerce and finance ministers need to provide financial assistance to small-scale farmers so they will remain in business and be able to compete.
Moreover, the government needs to give attention to small-scale farmers by including them in the national board that oversees the swine farm industry. The current structure is dominated by big business.
Last month, the association asked the government to revoke permits for importing pigs’ internal organs to feed animals. This proposal must be considered if the government cannot ensure imported innards go to industrial use, not leaked into the consumption market.
The smuggled pork problem needs the government’s continued attention. It is hoped it will solve the problem at its core because chasing smugglers at deep sea ports is just part of a wider battle.