Pork prices could hit new high later this year

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Pork prices may hit a historical high in the third quarter of this year and the agricultural department is making a strong effort to resume pig production, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs said on Tuesday.  

China reported 129 African swine fever outbreaks as of Monday. Since the country's first outbreak of the disease in August, about 1.02 million pigs have been slaughtered to control its spread, according to the ministry.  

The production of pigs in the first quarter of this year was 188 million, a decline of 5.1 percent compared to the same period last year, said Wei Baigang, director of the ministry's development and planning department.

Meanwhile, he said pork production also saw a drop of 5.2 percent with the total amount of 14.6 million metric tons.  

Although quarantine measures have been lifted in 23 provinces hit by the disease and the production, as well as supply of pork, remain stable in general, Wei said the reduced production capacity means prices can be expected to continue rising and hit a new historical high late this year.  

Data from the ministry showed that the pig population dropped by 18 percent in March, year-on-year, while the number of female pigs for reproductive use also declined by 21 percent.  

"The declining rate and speed are both the greatest in the past 10 years. Also, fewer piglets were raised due to the influence of the outbreak disease," said Wang Junxun, deputy director of the ministry's animal husbandry and veterinary bureau. He said both factors will result in the decline of pork production in the next months, which may boost pork prices to hit a historical high, surpassing that in 2016 when pig production was reduced because of the cold weather.  

Pig prices soared dramatically from 12.91 yuan ($1.92) per kilogram in the first week of March to 15.15 yuan in the first week of April, according to the ministry. Previously the highest record occurred in 2016 with a price of 21 yuan per kilogram. 

China has effectively contained the spread of African swine fever as the number of new outbreaks has slowed down this year. Among the total 129 outbreaks, 80 were indentified through preventative screening.  

Wang said the ministry has selected 11 types of rapid detection reagents, which are expected to speed up the screening soon. Also, he said the central government has given subsidies of more than 630 million yuan to farms that were hit by the disease.  

"We've provided free online training to pig farmers on disease prevention and control. Also, local agricultural departments have organized lectures and invited experts to answer public questions on the disease. All those efforts aim to give confidence to the public on the food safety," Wang said. 

African swine fever, deadly to pigs but not harmful to humans, was first discovered in Kenya in 1921. Last year the disease saw a surge in infections worldwide, as 25 countries and regions reported more than 6,500 new outbreaks. There is no effective vaccine against the disease.

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