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Home / Business / China's sweat disease outbreak pushes up global pork prices

China's sweat disease outbreak pushes up global pork prices

BEIJING (AP) – Hong Kong pensioner Lee Wai-man loves pork fresh from the market but eats much less as the price has jumped when China is struggling with a lethal pig disease that has sent shock waves through global meat markets. 19659002] China produces and consumes two-thirds of the world's pork, but production falls while Beijing destroys flocks and blocks shipments to stop African swine fever. Importers fill the gap by buying pigs as far away as Europe, increasing prices by up to 40% and causing shortages in other markets.

"I'm a fresh swine lover, but it's too expensive," Lee, 87, said when she bought in a Hong Kong market.

African swine fever does not harm humans, but is fatal and spreads rapidly among pigs. It was first reported in August in China's northeast. Since then, 1

million pigs have died, and the disease has spread to 31 of China's 34 provinces, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The extent of the outbreak is second to none, says Dirk Pfeiffer, veterinary epidemiologist at City University of Hong Kong.

"This is probably the most complex animal disease we've ever had to deal with," Pfeiffer said.

China's shortage is probably so serious that it will match Europe's annual pork production and exceed US production by 30%, say industry scientists.

  Pork lovers all over the world are waving at prices that have jumped up to 40 percent, since African swine fever in China's large pig herds send shock waves through global meat markets. (May 20)

"Everyone wants to import as much pork as possible," said analyst Angela Zhang of IQC Insights. She said the trend is likely to accelerate as Chinese production declines.

It is a boost for farmers in Germany, Spain and other countries with healthy pigs, but hard on families in Southeast Asia and other poor markets relying on pigs for protein. 19659002] This year's Chinese pork production may fall by up to 35%, according to Rabobank, a Dutch bank.

Global supplies will be redirected to China, the bank's researchers said in an April report. It said that "hitherto unfit shift" in trading is likely to lead to a shortage of other markets.

Food retailers in Germany, Japan and other high-income markets mumble by paying more for kielbasa or tonkatsu, but short supplies are a serious concern in places such as Cambodia where pork is the only meat many families can afford.

Cambodia's live herd price jumped 37% over the past six months, according to Srn Pov, president of the Cambodian Livestock Raiser Association. He said the country buys about 30% of its daily needs of 500-600 tons from Thailand.

"Pork is important to us," said Chhe Pich who slaughtered his purchase in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. "Although today's price is a bit high, I have to buy it to earn my family."

The US Department of Agriculture expects imports from China to pigs to rise 41% this year by 2018 to 2.2 million tonnes. There is no immediate end in sight as "evidence that China will not be able to eradicate ASF in the short term", a recent report said.

The shootings of the global meat industry highlight China's lush demand for food for its 1.4 billion people, the potential for greater disturbance if its own production falls and its growing ability to over-supply other customers.

African swine fever was first reported in August in China northeast. Since then, 1 million pigs have died, and the disease has spread to 31 of China's 34 provinces, according to the FAO.

Outbreaks have been reported in Cambodia, Mongolia, South Africa and Vietnam.

It has been found among a small number of wild boar, which can spread the disease, in Russia and seven European countries.

Yang Wenguo, a farmer in Jiangjiaqiao, a village a two-hour drive northeast of Beijing, said he lost 800 pigs. He now has a couple of dozen.

Most of Yang's pens are empty. White pus drips from blood-shot eyes to a surviving hog. Foam drops from other people's mouth. Smaller pigs cough.

Yang dosed their animals with state-backed drugs, but they continued to get sick. The government removes dead animals and pays compensation of 1,000 yuan ($ 145) for one and 20 yuan ($ 3) for a pig.

"You buy pigs, so they all die," he said, walking on the ground covered in disinfectant that looks like dirty snow. Only about 60 to 70 pigs remain from total crews of about 3,000 in Jiangjiaqiao.

Four other families in the village who raised pigs have stopped, Yang says, "No one can bear to lose all the pigs they travel." He had liked to sell his farm and find work in the city, but no one wants to buy.

USDA forecasts China's total herd will shrink by 18% this year to 350 million animals, the lowest level since the 1980s.

In Hong Kong, the government destroyed 6,000 pigs in one slaughterhouse after an animal imported from the mainland was found to be infected.

"More and more customers are switching from roast meat to other roast meat such as chicken and duck," said the restaurant owner Siu Si man.

Chinese authorities respond to outbreaks by a temporary ban on consignments of pigs from any province where a case has been reported.

It has led to retail prices rising in large cities cut off from supplies. The prices paid to farmers have collapsed in areas with a surplus of pigs that they cannot export.

Half an hour's drive from Yang's farm, Wang Lijun races his own piglets to avoid buying infected animals. His flock fell from 160 to 170 animals to about 20 to 30, but no one died this year.

"All farmers cut the production," he said, passing a row of cages holding pregnant lakes.

The number of sows needed for breeding, had fallen 19% from a year ago at the end of February, suggesting that supply will go through next year, USDA forecasts.

"China's fence building will be slow and take years," Rabobank said. 19659002] In Vietnam, the government said in mid-May that 1.2 million pigs, or about 5% of their total herds, had died or been destroyed. Rabobank expects Vietnamese pork production to fall 10% this year from 2018.

China's largest foreign pork supplier is Spain, which accounts for 20% of imports. Germany delivers 19.5% and Canada 16%.

Spanish exports of pigs and other pig products to China jumped 32.8% in the first two months of 2019 from the previous year to EUR 117 million ($ 131 million), according to Interporc, a Spanish industrial group.

"My vendors have told me to raise prices at the end of the month because of what is happening in China," said Jordi Nargares, a slaughter in a working class in Barcelona. 19659002] US pork sales to China have been disturbed by the Beijing tariff war with the Trump administration over trade and technology.

Chinese buyers canceled orders for 3,300 tons of American pork a week on May 6, according to the USDA.

Chinese companies are investing in farms and food processors abroad to capitalize on strong demand. The New Hope Group, one of China's largest agribusiness groups, said it plans to invest 1.1 billion yuan ($ 170 million) in three pig breeding farms in Vietnam.


AP video journalist Alice Fung in Hong Kong and AP authors Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh and Joseph Wilson in Madrid contributed.

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