US pork experts warn of ASF danger

By Aidan Fortune

- Last updated on GMT

USMEF senior vice president for the Asia Pacific Joel Haggard discusses the effects of ASF
USMEF senior vice president for the Asia Pacific Joel Haggard discusses the effects of ASF

Related tags Pork Livestock

US pork industry specialists have given an update on the impact of African Swine Fever (ASF) on the global meat market.

Speaking at the USMEF Spring Conference and board of directors meeting in Kansas City last week, Dr. Dave Pyburn, senior vice president for science and technology for the National Pork Board, labelled it the most devastating disease to the industry.

“As I watch this virus move across many countries, it concerns me with what the future holds,”​ said Pyburn. “For the pork industry, this is the most devastating disease that we could get. With this strain of ASF, which is the same across Russia, across the Baltics, across Eastern and Western Europe – and now in Asia – it’s all the same. From what I’m hearing from people on the ground, when you look at domestic animals, within about 10 days of an individual animal infection that animal is dead. When you start looking at large units that get infected, about 80 percent of hogs in that unit are going to die from the virus.

“What you need to remember is that some of these pigs that are dying are sows, and China’s breeding was already shrinking when the disease hit,” ​he said. “I have yet to hear of any large swine units that have been successfully repopulated there. In fact, some barns that once were full of hogs now hold poultry.”

He said that if ASF was to be identified in the US: export markets would likely close; consumer confidence in pork could falter and pork prices could collapse to market-clearing levels

He suggested that preparation for ASF in the US should include consultation and cooperation with Mexico and Canada, along with a ‘toolbox’ that should be built that features surveillance plans, a network of veterinarians, a credible detection system and regular communication.

Joel Haggard, USMEF senior vice president for the Asia Pacific, said that the anticipated “hole”​ in China’s pork production has not yet generated a surge in imports, but a significant increase is expected to come soon.

Haggard also commented on China’s regulatory efforts in response to the ASF crisis, including new requirements for the country’s pork processing sector and frozen stocks.

“The consensus is that China started to fill their freezers last fall as farmers rushed to sell because they were afraid of ASF breaking on their farm,”​ said Haggard. “The regulation requiring pork coming out of freezers to be tested by processors wasn’t implemented until 1 May of this year. So then the question becomes, is this pork coming out of freezers being tested? It seems like that would be a very complicated operation.”

Meanwhile USMEF Economist Erin Borror explained some of the potential effects of ASF on the global pork market.

“ASF-driven pork shortages, especially in China, will drive global pork trade to record levels in 2019-2020 and over the near term,”​ she said.

“Thus prices for hogs and pork are trending higher and this will continue in an effort to ration supplies – and send the signal to producers to expand or rebuild where possible,”​ said Borror. “The China pork shortage will support prices for other meats, including beef, and China’s imports of all meats will be record-large.”

Borror added that the US is the best-positioned nation to expand pork exports because of its production growth, but market access issues – including retaliatory duties imposed by China – continue to handicap US exports.

“US exports to China will depend on a US-China agreement, but keep in mind that US pork and beef will also be highly demanded in other major import markets,”​ she said.

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