(Bloomberg) – China’s Ministry of Agriculture believes that by mid-year the country will have fully recovered the number of pigs it lost to African swine fever. New outbreaks of the virus and other lethal pig diseases could pose risks to this screening.
A resurgence of swine fever cases in the colder northern provinces led to farmers slaughtering more breeding sows before the Lunar New Year, said Lin Guofa, a senior analyst at consultancy Bric Agriculture Group. Pork is China’s favorite meat and its consumption usually increases during the holiday period.
Other viruses, such as foot-and-mouth disease and swine epidemic diarrhea, have also taken their toll in outbreaks exacerbated by a more extreme winter than usual, Lin said. “The recovery of pig herds in some regions could be delayed, particularly in Shandong and parts of Henan and Hebei,” he said.
This means that up to 15% of the national pig herd has been lost due to disease during the winter, and their complete rehabilitation to pre-swine fever levels is more likely in the second half of 2022, said Wang Zhong, chief consultant. New variants of swine fever have been identified in Systematic, Strategic & Soft Consulting Co. that have been less easy to detect and more difficult to control, he said.
Wholesale pork prices remain high.
Stabilizing the pig population and reducing market volatility has been a priority for authorities since 2018, when swine fever reached China’s pig herd, the largest in the world. There is no officially licensed vaccine and the epidemic cut the number of pigs in half, leading to an increase in pork imports and prices.
Global agricultural markets have been further affected in recent months by the government’s push for a rapid recovery in numbers, leading to massive grain shortages and emptying silos in North America.
China’s pig population had returned to 90% of normal levels by the end of November, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. The ministry did not respond to a fax seeking comment on its latest forecasts.
Efforts to speed up the release of imported meat stored in ports and in cold stores, estimated at about 1 million tonnes, should help control pork prices, said Lin of Bric Agriculture. On Monday, live hog futures on the Dalian Commodity Exchange closed at their highest price since the contract debuted last month.