Since publicly reporting the discovery of their first case of African Swine Fever (ASF) on Aug. 1, China has reported several more outbreaks, bringing the total number of reported cases in the country to 13 in six different provinces.
This marks the first time the world’s largest pork producer, accounting for 48 percent of global pork production, has reported a case.
Chinese officials are aggressively culling herds deemed susceptible to contracting the virus in affected areas. It is currently reported that approximately 40,000 hogs have been culled. While this is just a fraction of a percentage of the overall hog population, estimated to be nearly 450 million, thousands more hogs potentially could be culled as the virus spreads, according to Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Livestock Specialist Ernie Birchmeier.
“ASF is a serious, highly contagious, viral disease that can spread very rapidly in pig populations by direct or indirect contact,” Birchmeier said. “Pigs can contract the virus in a variety of ways, including transmission by ticks and direct contact between animals, as well as by contact with contaminated food, animal feed or vehicles.”
While the virus does not affect humans, and is believed to pose no human health implications, ASF can be transferred by humans. According to Birchmeier, ASF can survive for long periods in uncooked swine products, which can facilitate its introduction into new areas.
The virus is extremely hardy and can withstand extreme environmental conditions in fresh and frozen meat. There currently is no vaccine or treatment, and the mortality rate of the virus is near 100 percent.
On Aug. 3, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs’ chief veterinary officer reported the outbreak to the World Animal Health Organization.
In the following weeks, China reported that more than 35.5 million pigs had been screened for ASF, and around 700 pigs deemed susceptible to the outbreak were disposed of by government officials.
China reported that the origin of the pigs in the second outbreak had come from roughly 1,500 miles away in the Heilongjiang Province. A reported reason for this long distance of travel is that the northeastern provinces do not have enough animal harvest capacity, and typically will transport the pigs to provinces farther south.
China has announced the closure of live hog markets in the affected provinces. China has introduced a ban on transporting pigs and pork products from, as well as through, the affected provinces, which has the potential to significantly disrupt the country’s pork supply chain.
This ban has already affected price to an extent due to an imbalance of supply and demand between provinces, and the inability to get the pigs and the pork to where they are demanded. Further compounding this issue is a potential scramble by producers to sell off their herds to processors in order to avoid being caught up in a potential forced cull of their herd.
China is by far the world’s largest producer and consumer of pork. Therefore, any significant disruption in that supply chain has the potential to dramatically impact world supply and demand. Figure 3 highlights the drastic differences in scale between China and the next-largest pork producers.
Reports are that China has already disposed of approximately 40,000 animals. That number may not be large enough to materially impact the herds of the five largest pork producing countries, but the number is expected to grow. The sheer size of China’s pig herd means that even materially larger animal disposal numbers would still be a fraction of the Chinese herd, but significant shares of other countries’.
“This could have an impact on the need for China to source more pork from the United States, depending on how large the outbreak is, “Birchmeier said. “Wouldn’t that be interesting with the current trade/tariff situation?”