China pig sector in crisis as African swine fever spreads

A fourth separate outbreak of the deadly African swine fever (ASF) has been identified in China, increasing fears over the country’s disease control.

The world’s largest pig herd has already culled 20,000 animals to try and contain the spread of the disease, according to the Chinese ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.

See also: Guide to biosecurity measures to keep pigs disease-free

ASF has been discovered in four locations: Liaoning in the north-east of the country, Jiangsu on the east coast, the further inland Henan province and the most recent outbreak in Zhejiang. The disease does not affect humans.

There is no vaccine for the highly contagious disease and concerns are growing it may have spread to the regions between Liaoning where the outbreak was first discovered and the eastern regions where cases have been discovered in recent days.

Both Hebei and Shandong provinces, found between the two outbreak areas are large pig-producing areas.

Analysts fear the disease is being spread along busy livestock trade routes from farms in the North East to processing sites further south.

Chinese pig producers have begun selling herds for slaughter in anticipation of further outbreaks pushing the price of pigs downwards to the US$2/kg (£1.55) mark.

Prices recovered after hitting a four-year low earlier in the year but have fallen again as a result of the outbreaks.

China produces about 50% of the world’s pigmeat with a national herd of about 500 million pigs.

The disease outbreak is the latest challenge for Chinese producers to contend with, following the 25% retaliatory tariff placed on US soya imports sending the cost of animal feed upwards.  

UK opportunities

The disruption ASF will cause to the Chinese pork market offers opportunities for UK producers to offset the likely fall in the region’s domestic pig production with UK exports.

UK pork exports to China and Hong Kong fell in the year to June 2018 compared with the same period 12 months before as the eastern nations domestic production increased.

Between January and June 2018, the UK exported 22,473t of pork to the region – a 19% fall on the year previous, according to AHDB Pork.

However, ASF will be a further blow to Chinese consumers trust in domestically produced food and increase demand for European exports, regarded as safer and of a higher quality.   

More on African Swine Fever

Get the latest news about ASF and what you can do to prevent the virus entering your farm with the Pig Progress African Swine Fever information hub.