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China's pork imports triple and prices boom as national pork output hits 16-year low

China's pork output in the first quarter fell 29.1 percent from a year ago to 10.38 million tonnes as the world's biggest producer continues to feel the impact of the African swine fever that decimated its hog herd.

17 April 2020, at 11:33am

China's pork output hit a 16-year low of 42.6 million tonnes in 2019 with African swine fever (ASF) wiping out an estimated 60 percent of its sow herd. The disease has spread throughout the country, largely unreported, since 2018.

A new case of the virus was confirmed in the eastern province of Jiangsu, the agriculture ministry announced today (17 April). The outbreak, detected in Muyang county in Jiangsu, was founded in 17 hogs illegally transported from outside the province, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said in statement. The outbreak is reported to have killed three of the pigs.

Farmers are now trying to rebuild, but restocking takes time and pork output is expected to fall further this year. Production over January to March was also hit by coronavirus-related curbs.

Slaughterhouses were shut for much of February after Beijing extended the Lunar New Year holiday to contain the virus outbreak, cutting slaughter volumes. They rebounded in March when farmers brought overweight pigs to market. Still, pork prices remain very high with a year-on-year rise of 116 percent in March, pushing up consumer inflation.

The statistics bureau said China's pig herd fell 14.4 percent from a year earlier to 321.2 million head by the end of the first quarter, but was up from the 310.41 million head reported at end-December. The national sow herd at the end of January-March was 33.81 million head. China slaughtered 131.29 million hogs over the period, down 30.3 percent from a year earlier.

The government is trying to stabilise prices by releasing frozen pork from its state reserves, and has sold off almost 300,000 tonnes so far this year.

Imports have also soared to record volumes in recent months, with first-quarter arrivals close to 1 million tonnes, nearly double last year's level.

China's total meat output in the first quarter including pork, beef, lamb and poultry fell 19.5 percent to 18.13 million tonnes. Poultry production was hit hard by measures to curb the coronavirus during its peak in February.