African swine fever threat hangs over industry

China’s sow numbers are estimated to be down 15 percent, which could force it to look for alternative protein sources

RED DEER — The calamity of African swine fever in China could completely change the global protein structure.

Millions of pigs have died from the fatal virus so China will begin a multi-year surge of pork imports and probably beef and poultry as well to fill demand and replace lost production.

Chinese meat prices will also go up, said market analyst Brett Stuart of Global Agritrends.

Wholesale chicken and beef have have risen more than 17 and nine percent, respectively, in the last six months.

Stuart travels to China regularly and said the extent of the epidemic is underreported, so it is hard to estimate how much damage has been done to the domestic pork industry, he said at the Alberta Beef Industry conference in Red Deer March 12-14.

“This deal is not going to be resolved in China. Massive underreporting is the real problem,” he said.

He estimated Chinese sow numbers are down six million head or 15 percent from a year ago.

“That is the entire U.S. production base gone from China,” he said.

The Chinese Swine Association said a third of hogs are gone and 60 percent were in Shandong and Hainon provinces. No one knows how many farms are hit. Chinese hog farms run the gamut of many different types, from backyard operations to highly sophisticated facilities.

Stabilizing the meat market could be difficult.

The Chinese eat about 88 pounds of pork per capita while poultry consumption is about 18 lb. and beef is around 12 lb. per capita.

About 25 million tonnes of meat are traded globally. Pork makes up about 6.5 million tonnes of that, which is 15 percent of Chinese consumption. Last year, China imported about 1.1 million tonnes of pork.

“If they lose 150 million to 200 million hogs that is the equivalent of all globally traded pork and most globally traded beef. These losses are significant,” Stuart said.

This is going to have an impact because they may struggle to substitute meats because of cost and supply.

The disease is spreading and can be transported by wild boars, ticks, food, waste, feed, people, trucks and maybe water.

Feed mills using blood meal could be spreading the disease.

“If it gets in a feed mill, it goes through the system and kills every pig it touches,” he said.

ASF does not pose a human health risk but the virus persists in food products so people moving meat around the globe could spread the disease.

It has been found in airports in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Australia and Taiwan, where travellers are carrying meat. It has not been found in American airports because officials there incinerate banned meat products.

Chinese products are flowing into North America including feed additives like lysine, which is part of a hog’s diet.

The United States exports 23 percent of its pork production and if African swine fever was found, it would halt exports. Canada exports 70 percent of production and could be jeopardized even more so than U.S. operations because of the greater difficulty Canada would likely have at consuming its pork production domestically, if its exports were suddenly stopped.

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