African Swine Fever Threatens China’s Appetite for Pork

Australia’s reputation for producing safe meat products may help exporters get a foot in the door of China’s lucrative import market. Image by Fanifrank, from Wikimedia under a CC4.0 license.

The world’s largest pig herd is under threat after it was reported that African Swine Fever has been detected in China.

The disease was discovered on several farms near the city of Shenyang, prompting the Chinese Government to order a ban on transporting hogs from the city. The death of 47 pigs from African Swine Fever was followed by a cull of a further 1,000 hogs.

The discovery of African Swine Fever in China comes amid the efforts of Russia and European countries to control the disease which has plagued their pork industry in recent years. Russia has culled 800,000 pigs in an effort to control the disease.

African Swine Fever is the most deadly disease to affect pigs. Once infected, pigs develop a fever and experience haemorrhaging of their internal organs. Mortality rates are up to 100% and there are no known treatments for the disease. The disease is spread by contact between pigs, via animal feed and human contact, but does not pose a threat to human health.

Testing has revealed that the outbreak in China was likely caused by pork products imported from Russia. As China struggles to keep up with consumer demand, it has supplemented domestic production with imported pork products. In the wake of the USA’s recently imposed trade tariffs, China upped the amount of pork bought from Russia, increasing the risk of transmission of African Swine Fever.

Sweet and Sour Pork

China is the largest consumer of pork in the world and it’s industry represents 50% of global production, with a national herd of 400 million pigs. It has significant cultural value for the Chinese who are the world highest per capita consumer of the meat, eating around 40kgs pork each annually.

This has grown significantly since the 1970s when pork consumption averaged around 10kgs per person per year, on the back of the liberalisation of agriculture and increasing wealth among the middle class.

The mass consumption of pork means that the industry significantly affects China’s economy and the government’s policy decision making. Not only is the market price of pork considered in China’s consumer price index, but it also affects inflation.

The Chinese Government has developed the world’s only pork reserve, buying up quantities of the meat when the price falls and releasing it as the price rises.

Potential for Australian Exporters

Despite China’s appetite for pork, Australia has struggled to get a foot in the door as an export partner. Spain, Germany, Canada and the USA have been the main players in the market, largely due to their low cost of production.

Australian pork is viewed by the Chinese as being high quality and free from disease, with one survey of Chinese pork importers suggesting that it is considered to be of better quality than Chinese-bred pork. While Australia is unlikely to produce pork as cheaply as other countries, improvements to the free trade agreement may facilitate future market opportunities.

Sources: Agriculture Wire, Sydney Morning Herald, The Pig Site, Reuters, The Economist, SCMP

Get the latest industry updates

Stay up to date on ag industry news, HR resources and available positions.