Meat production is likely to fall for the first time in two decades because of a deadly disease that’s wiping out Chinese hog herds.
That’s according a report from the United Nations, which said African swine fever will have far-reaching effects in food and agriculture markets around the world.
As a whole, farmers will produce 0.2 percent less meat this year.
More than one million hogs have been culled in China since the outbreak began and some analysts are predicting that the country — the world’s top hog producer — will lose 30 percent of its herd this year.
For all the recent fanfare about younger consumers going vegan and Beyond Meat’s blockbuster initial public offering, it’s not enough to move the needle when it comes to global meat consumption.
The decline in meat supply this year would be a small dip after years of steady growth as rising incomes and higher standards of living in the developing world mean more people are able to afford foods that were once a rare luxury.
Meat production has increased about 45 percent since 2000, according to the UN.
For now, the pig disease in China is having the biggest impact on pork production, with the decline in pork offsetting growth in supplies of chicken and beef.
The virus — which isn’t known to harm humans — has spread nationwide and there’s no indication that it’s under control yet.
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture in April forecast a drop of 134 million head — equivalent to the entire annual output of American pigs — and the worst slump since the USDA began counting China’s pigs in the mid-1970s.
China’s increased demand for imports helped push a gauge of global meat prices up 3 percent to a one-year high in April, sending a measure of overall food prices up for a fourth month, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said in a separate report Thursday.
June hog futures are up almost 9 percent this year in Chicago.
Here’s how the African swine fever outbreak is affecting agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations:
l Soybeans and feed — China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans, and half its purchases end up as pig feed, so fewer hogs could take a toll on demand.
The FAO said corn and cassava also could see lower feed demand.
l Milk — China is the world’s top importer of whey powder, which is used as animal feed for piglets. As the country’s hog herd shrinks, that will mean lower whey imports.
l Chicken — Chicken companies could turn out to be the big winner. Chinese shoppers may switch to poultry, the most popular and cheapest meat, as pork becomes more expensive.
Poultry output may rise 2.8 percent this year, faster than the increase in beef and lamb. At the same time, lower soybean prices likely will reduce the cost of making chicken feed.