North America braces for African swine fever shock

The deadly hog virus may already be on this continent but has not made its way into the pig herd, which would be catastrophic

African swine fever may have already arrived in North America but hasn’t found its way to farms.

“The chances of keeping the virus out of a country is very low,” said veterinarian Scott Dee.

High volumes of products come from China where the disease is rampant. Since the virus has a long life, it could easily travel in imported feed ingredients or smuggled meat, he said in a recent webinar.

“My guess is the virus has entered the country before and it probably enters regularly at the seaports. What we have got going for us is it has not yet jumped into pigs,” said Dee, who is director of Pipestone Applied Research with Pipestone Veterinary Services in the United States.

Emergency training exercises are ongoing and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has started a national feed import program to control high-risk products when they arrive.

If ASF arrived in the United States, damages could be as high as US$16 billion for the agriculture industry in the first year because it could affect the entire pork complex.

Research projects are looking for a vaccine and for ways to control risk factors. Additives like formaldyhyde products and others have been tested on viruses similar to ASF to find what kills them.

Producers must increase biosecurity measures and learn what ingredients are going into mixes at their local feed mill.

Market analysts view ASF as a game-changer because there is not enough protein in the world to fill in the gap left in China, where about 20 percent of the sow herd has been lost to ASF.

“The global consumer is going to be bidding against Chinese hyperinflation for pork,” said Brett Stuart of Global Agritrends.

The effect of this disease is unprecedented in the global markets, he said. Stuart estimated that compared to 2017, the Chinese pork supply will drop 65 percent by 2020.

“We continue to hear that restocking efforts are failing en masse in China. We did hear recently of one farm that had successfully restocked up to that point,” he said.

“Barring a vaccine, we just do not see any way they can recover to any significant level in China.”

In October, Chinese pork prices reported to be 84 percent higher than the previous year. Since January, live hog prices are up by 240 percent.

Currently, a Chinese hog producer is clearing the equivalent of $400 a head.

“That is a life-changing profit for small Chinese farmers,” he said.

About 85 percent of Chinese production comes from farms with fewer than 1,000 sows. These are the farms least able to implement biosecurity.

The government’s plan is to subsidize large-scale producers. About 15 percent are large commercial production units that have had significant animal losses.

The spill-over effects will affect all global protein supplies from chicken to seafood tilapia by the end of 2020, Stuart said.

“We see a global surge in inflation across the protein sector as we see all global protein supplies decline,” he said.

North America and Europe probably can’t expand enought to fill the gap, although Spain and Brazil may be able to step up production with an extra 2.2 million tonnes, said Rupert Claxton of Gira Foods.

“China is short of pork so far beyond what the global market can replace,” he said.

In the next 18 months, the market will be about diverting pork from domestic and other markets. Contracts could be broken to push pork into China.

As well, beef and chicken exports to China have risen. About 58 percent more beef has been exported to China for the first seven months of this year. More poultry from Brazil is flowing into China at the rate of 40,000 to 70,000 tonnes per month for the first half of this year.

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