China pork estimates hard to gauge

Previous to the African swine fever outbreak, China produced roughly half of all the pigs in the world. | Reuters photo

China’s claims that it has regained 90 percent of the hog production lost during an outbreak of African swine fever are not gaining traction among North American hog and livestock market analysts.

Through disease losses followed by precautionary slaughter beginning in 2018, China is thought to have lost more than 40 percent of its herd, or more than 400 million animals. Previous to the disease outbreak, the country produced roughly half of all the pigs in the world.

Through culling, vaccination and efforts to industrialize production, Chinese officials say the herd has almost recovered from pre-ASF levels.

“I don’t think everybody necessarily trusts that, though,” said Rob Murphy, executive vice-president of research and analysis with J.S. Ferraro.

He said domestic hog prices in China remain high and that tells a different story.

“When it comes to whether or not to trust the Chinese ministry of agriculture or the prices that I can actually observe, I tend to go with the prices. It seems to me that if they had really gotten back to 90 percent of pre-ASF levels, we wouldn’t be seeing price levels where they are today. They’re still too high.”

However, Murphy also noted China has been importing huge volumes of corn and soybeans, suggesting it does have more animals to feed.

The trend suggests that China will be reducing its pork purchases from the United States and Canada relative to recent trends.

However, there have also been reports that variants of ASF have appeared in China, possibly related to use of illicit vaccines.

According to a report from Reuters, two new strains have infected pigs on several farms owned by China’s fourth largest producer. That could affect the country’s herd growth projections.

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