To say African swine fever is underreported in China “is a joke,” an industry professional who does business in the country recently told us, adding “This is an event you’ll tell your grandkids about.”
Just how bad is the ASF outbreak? No one knows, including China.
The Chinese government does not pay for lost animals, so there is no incentive to report. Officially, Beijing has said there are around 110 cases of the virus.
Our source indicates that China’s market-ready hog supply is down anywhere from 15% to 70%, depending on the province. Hebei, a province in northern China that includes Beijing, is one of the worst areas, where losses are likely in the 70% area.
Nationwide, industry sources signal a ballpark number is that the Chinese hog herd is down 30% to 40% based on feed usage, but no one knows for sure.
The practice of backyard hog farming, often including the feeding of food scrap and food waste, has made it near impossible to contain ASF. And China is not alone on this — the setup is the same across Southeast Asia where 70% of the world’s pigs are raised. It is only a matter of time before the virus spreads across the region, according to our source.
Unlike many other diseases and viruses, African swine fever has a 100% mortality rate. That means there is no opportunity to build immunity in other animals. And with no vaccine available (or expected for at least a decade, according to contacts), it is tough to see where the spread of ASF across the region ends. ASF has already moved into Vietnam and Mongolia, and Taiwan reports that 7.5% of pork products confiscated from travelers this month tested positive for ASF.
Besides losses due to the spread of ASF, liquidation is also rampant as producers try to get out in front of an outbreak. But our source says that is going to come to an end soon, at which point China will need to bring in pork. Even with hefty tariffs on U.S. shipments in place, China recently made its largest purchase of U.S. pork in two years and its third largest buy on record.
“The benefit to producers in the U.S. is unbelievable” so long as the virus stays out of the U.S., according to our source. “And that could occur so easily.”
That point was driven home over the weekend, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents intercepted 1 million lbs. of smuggled Chinese pork in New Jersey.