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Home / Business / Swine fever in China can be twice as high as reported, industry insiders say

Swine fever in China can be twice as high as reported, industry insiders say

BEIJING (Reuters) – As many as half of China's breeding pigs have either died from African swine fever or been slaughtered due to the spreading disease, twice as many as officially recognized, according to estimates by four people supplying large farms.

FILE PHOTO: Pigs are seen in the back of a truck outside a slaughterhouse in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, China December 22, 2017. REUTERS / Stringer / File Photo

(For an interactive graphic click tmsnrtrsrs / 2t0mpCk)

While other estimates are more conservative, the plunge in the number of lakes is ready to leave a huge hole in the supply of the country's favorite meat, increasing food prices and devastating livelihoods in a rural economy that includes 40 million pig farmers.

"Something that 50% of the sows have died," said Edgar Wayne Johnson, a veterinarian who has spent 14 years in China and founded Enable Agricultural Technology Consulting, a Beijing-based corporate company with customers across the country.

Three other leaders of manufacturers of vaccines, additives and genetics also consider losses of 40% to 50%, based on falling sales for company products and direct knowledge of the extent of the fatal disease on farms across the country.

Losses are not just from infected pigs that die or are deleted, but also farmers who send pigs to market early when the disease is discovered nearby, farmers and business insiders have told Reuters, as analysts say have kept a lid on pig prices in recent times months.

However, prices began to increase significantly this month, and China's Ministry of Agriculture has said they could increase by 70 percent over the coming months as a result of the outbreak. Pork accounts for more than 60% of Chinese meat consumption.

China, which produces half of the world's pork, said in the month its mushroom herd went down with a record of 23.9% in May from the year before, a slightly deeper drop than for the overall pig herd.

Sugg or adult females bred to produce the pigs for slaughter, make up about one in ten pigs in China. However, a decrease in the sea crew corresponds to a corresponding decrease in pork production, experts from the industry say.

(Graphic: African swine fever – tmsnrtrsrs / 2t4EnDK)

The Ministry of Agriculture and Country has not responded to a fax-seeking comment on allegations of much higher losses than officially reported. It said on June 24 that the disease has been "effectively controlled", Xinhua news agency reported.

The Dutch agricultural lender Rabobank said in April that pork production losses from China's African swine fever can reach 35%. It is to revise this figure higher to allow for extensive slaughter in recent months, senior analyst Pan Chenjun, Reuters told.


African swine fever, of which there is no cure and no vaccine, kills almost all infected pigs, although it does not harm humans. Since China's first reported case in August last year, the virus responds to the strains found in recent years in Russia, Georgia and Estonia. It has spread to every province and beyond China's borders, despite measures Beijing took to curb progress.

The government has so far reported 137 outbreaks, but many more are unreported, most recently in southern provinces such as Guangdong, Guangxi and Hunan, according to four farmers and an official recently interviewed by Reuters.

The vast and fragmented nature of China's agricultural sector, a secret bureaucracy and what is widely believed among industry experts to be poor Chinese data quality, make the full extent of the disease impossible to determine.

"Almost all the pigs here have died," said a farmer in Bobai County in China's southwestern Guangxi region. Guangxi produced more than 33 million pigs in 2017 and is a key supplier to South China.

"We were not allowed to report the pig disease," she told Reuters, and ended revealing her name because of the sensitivity of the question, adding that the government has arrested farmers to "spread rumors" about the disease. Reuters could not confirm this.

(Graphic: Map of outbreaks of African swine fever in China – tmsnrt.rs/2QMhmzL)

Authorities in Yulin city, which monitors Bobai County, confirmed an outbreak of the disease in a pig on May 27. It was only the second to be reported in the region after a case in Beihai, February 19, 1965.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the Guangxi Region did not respond to a fax-seeking comment.

Reuters also spoke to farmers in the cities of Zhongshan, Foshan and Maoming in the neighboring Guangdong province, all of whom had lost hundreds or thousands of pigs to the disease over the past three months. No outbreaks have been reported officially in these cities. None of the farmers agreed to be identified.

The agricultural offices in Guangdong and Hunan provinces did not respond to faxes seeking comment.

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China had 375 million pigs in late March, 10% fewer than at the same time a year ago, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). It had 38 million lakes, down 11% a year, NBS said.

Numerous industry vendors have said they believe the actual decline is much worse.

Dick Hordijk, CEO of Dutch partner Royal Agrifirm, told Dutch radio station BNR last month that the company's profits in China would be obliterated by the disease, which spread like "an oil law".

"One hundred percent of our business was focused on pigs, half of which is now gone," he said. "It's a catastrophe for the farmers and the animals."

The company produces premixtures or mixtures of vitamins and other nutrients in two factories in China, and sells them to about 100 large pig farmers in China for use in bulk.

Stephan Lange, vice president of animal health in China, with privately owned pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim, who makes vaccines, and Johnson, the Beijing-based veterinarian, said the loss had been higher than 50% in pockets in the country.

Large animal-producing provinces, including Hebei, Henan and Shandong, are believed by some in the industry to have been particularly hard hit.


In Shandong, China's fourth largest pungent province, more than half of the large number of farms now sucked empty, estimated Johnson based on conversations with farmers and larger pig producers.

The virus is so prevalent that he has discovered it on the surface of a highway in the province, where it can be spread by sending trucks, he added. He used the same test that is widely used to detect the virus in pigs.

Shandong's agricultural consultant did not respond to a fax expert on the problem. The authorities where previously said that the seed meat shrank by 41 percent in the seven months to February 2019, even after only one outbreak was reported.

In a statement to Reuters, Henan said it only had two outbreaks of the disease. The sea crew fell 16.5% in the first quarter, due to various factors, including market prices and African swine fever, said without giving further details.

In Hebei, too, the northern province of Beijing, many counties have few lakes left, Johnson said, who saw his first case of the disease there in October.

Hebei has only reported an outbreak – in February this year – but a survey by the Ministry of Agriculture published online, said the sea crew fell by 32% in the first quarter.

Hebei Province told Reuters in a statement that African swine fever situation was "stable" and disputed the claim that there were few lakes left in many counties. [19659000]

Beijing has repeatedly urged farmers to recover, but putting new lakes on a farm that has been infected with African swine fever is risky, experts say.

The virus can survive for weeks outside a host, possibly living on a farm that has not been thoroughly disinfected.

Lange said some of his customers have started filling up empty farms, but for some, the disease has returned.

Slideshow (6 Images)

"There is still much uncertainty obvious. If you are reinfected again, there is really a lot of money you lose," he said.

The Bobai farmer, who now has no opportunity to pay his debt, said she didn't intend to start her farm again, even though she could afford it.

"I dare not lift pigs," she said. "You can't see the virus with your eyes. The virus is still here, there is virus in the pork."

Reporting by Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu; Additional reporting by Beijing and Hong Kong newsrooms; Editing by Tony Munroe and Alex Richardson

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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