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Email Content: Poultry Industry News, Comments and more by Simon M. Shane

Opacity in ASF Reports from China


CHICK-NEWS and EGG-NEWS have forcefully questioned reports on the extent and severity of the ongoing outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) in China. Official reports suggest the loss of one million hogs out of a population of 300 million, which should be inconsequential in terms of output and market price. The reality is that prices of live hogs and pork have shown a steady increase since the first diagnoses during the 3rd quarter of 2018. High prices for pork are also reflected in increased demand for poultry meat as documented in a recent USDA-FAS GAIN Report. Conflicting data have been released by central and provincial authorities, although it is evident that at least 114 disclosed outbreaks have been confirmed in 28 provinces. This in itself is a red flag (irony intended), since multiple outbreaks of a highly contagious disease in diverse geographic areas over a short time period suggests a high incidence rate inconsistent with official reports.

The Ministry of Agriculture of China stated that the national pig herd in February fell by 16 percent year-on-year, representing 50 million hogs. More important, the sow herd has apparently fallen by 20 percent implying that forward production will be affected even in the unlikely event that the infection in grow-out farms can be controlled in the intermediate future. Authorities in Shandong Province, producing close to 50 million hogs in 2017, stated that the breeding sow herd had declined by 41 percent. The province produces seven percent of the national supply of close to 600 million hogs annually.

During the early months of the outbreak, official reports confirmed diagnoses, but most were described in small family-owned units with less than 200 hogs. To have attained the magnitude of losses as are now becoming apparent, the number of outbreaks and their extent over at least fifteen major provinces producing hogs must be far higher than has been admitted.

Since pork is a major protein source in diets in China, disruption of supply will have profound social and economic impacts, some of which are becoming apparent including the increased demand for broiler meat. Clearly China will have to import pork, presuming a relaxation of import duties on agricultural products imposed as retaliation for U.S. tariffs on manufactured goods. It is ironic that the WH Group, most vulnerable to the ASF outbreak is the owner of Smithfield Foods of the U.S. that indirectly will benefit from the outbreak.

The primary concern of veterinary authorities in the U.S. should be to prevent introduction of ASF. The most likely route would be illegal importation of pork from Asia in which the virus can remain viable for extended periods. CHICK-NEWS previously documented seizure of numerous containers of partly cured pork at the Port of Elizabeth in New Jersey. Taiwan and South Korea have also interdicted illegally imported pork contaminated with ASF Virus. The obvious questions are how much contraband material has been imported into the U.S. and Canada and whether existing illegal supply channels will continue to function undetected, risking our pork industry.

Copyright 2019 Simon M. Shane