Nation & World

World Pork Expo, set for Des Moines, canceled due to fears of African swine fever virus

Swine fever may lead to inflation

Bloomberg

Piglets are kept in pens at a pig farm in Langfang, Hebei province, China, earlier this month.
Bloomberg Piglets are kept in pens at a pig farm in Langfang, Hebei province, China, earlier this month.
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Visitors aren’t welcome at Zhao Baojiang’s pigsty. Those granted access to his fortresslike farm outside Beijing must park a half-mile away, change into shoes he provides and wear disposable overalls to prevent introducing African swine fever virus.

Zhao’s fastidiousness about infection control, combined with a towering brick wall protecting his property, probably helped save his 500-hog herd from the deadly contagion that’s ravaged pig farms across China since August.

Empty barns around his village of Xi Fengwu, about 37 miles south of the national capital, indicate few of Zhao’s neighbors were as fortunate.

The infectious disease has killed tens of thousands of pigs in China, which raises about half the world’s hogs. Worse still, stopping its spread has resulted in the culling of millions more, including breeding sows and piglets.

Latest government predictions point to a loss of swine this year equivalent to the European Union’s annual supply.

That poses a threat to not only the millions of Chinese whose livelihoods depend on pigs, but also to food inflation in a country with the highest per-capita pork consumption after Vietnam and the EU. Wholesale pork prices have climbed more than 9 percent since late July.

Domestic pork supply in China this year may fall at least four million metric tons below demand, according to Ma Chuang, deputy secretary-general with Chinese Association of Animal Science and Veterinary Medicine. He estimates the total hog population may drop by as much as 30 percent in the “year of the pig” from 2018 — a loss of about 128 million head.

“The global market won’t have enough pork to supply China,” Ma said Tuesday in an interview in Beijing. “The deficit won’t be filled even with poultry or other meats.”

Fear of spreading the virus to America was cited as the main reason Wednesday for the National Pork Producers Council to cancel its annual World Pork Expo, set for June in Des Moines. The event traditionally sees attendees from some 40 counties.

Meanwhile, Keely Coppess, Iowa Department of Agriculture communications director, noted Iowa has been “monitoring the situation very closely.” It’s been working with state and national pork producers associations and individual producers to keep an eye on efforts Asia has employed to contain the outbreak.

As Iowa is the largest producer of pork in the United States, Coppess added, the Ag Department — along with the state departments of Public Health and Natural Resources, as well as the Governor’s Office, law enforcement officials and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, among others — has been working on responses if the virus were to introduced in this country/

“God forbid,” she said.

In China, African swine fever may prompt a dietary shift to alternative protein-rich foods, such as eggs and dairy, Ma said.

Meat prices, including chicken, beef and seafood, are likely to rise because of a global shortage caused by China’s outbreaks, according to Rabobank.

China made its biggest-ever purchase of American pork in the week to April 4, pushing up Chicago hog futures.

In some areas, weekly pork sales have fallen by half because restaurants are buying less, said Xie Yifang at Xinfadi market, the largest wholesale market south of Beijing.

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Even after culling diseased and potentially infected pigs, restricting the movement of hogs, and closing live-animal markets in outbreak areas, African swine fever has continued to spread, albeit at a slower pace than at the end of 2018.

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