Still reeling from pig disease, China pork output drops for 6th quarter

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s pork output dropped for a sixth straight quarter, as the world’s top producer continued to reel from the impact of the African swine fever disease that decimated its hog herd.

FILE PHOTO: Employees work at a pig slaughtering and pork processing plant in Huaian, Jiangsu province, China April 9, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS/File Photo

A sharp 29% plunge in first-quarter output underlines the extent of the impact from the disease and the huge task the sector faces in trying to rebuild after African swine fever killed millions of pigs since August 2018.

It slashed China’s pork output to a 16-year low of 42.6 million tonnes in 2019, while some experts estimate the sow herd shrank by at least 60% last year after the disease spread throughout the country, largely unreported.

Restrictions this year to contain an outbreak of the novel coronavirus - which has confined people to their homes and shuttered business including slaughterhouse - have further disrupted efforts to rebuild output.

China’s pork output fell to 10.38 million tonnes in the first three months of 2020, data from the National Bureau of Statistics showed on Friday.

That was slightly below the previous quarter’s 10.74 million tonnes, although output in the fourth quarter of 2019 had contracted by an even bigger 31%, Reuters calculations show.

China slaughtered 131.29 million hogs over the first three months of 2020, down 30.3% from a year earlier.

Farmers are trying to rebuild, but restocking takes time and pork output is expected to fall further this year as a shortage of sows prompts many to keep back female pigs usually destined for slaughter to be used for breeding, analysts say.

Dutch financial services firm Rabobank expects a decline of up to 20% on China’s 2019 number.

Wens Foodstuff Group, China’s top pig producer, has flagged fewer piglets since the second half of 2019 and has held back some female pigs to restock its breeding farms.

It reported a 62% plunge in hog sales to 2.25 million head for the first quarter.


China’s pig herd fell 14.4% from a year earlier to 321.2 million head by the end of the first quarter, but that was up from the 310.41 million head reported at end-December, data from the statistics bureau shows.

The sow herd at end-March was 33.81 million head, it said.

The number is close to previous highs of about 40 million head, said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank, but it likely includes female pigs not usually used for breeding, which will hurt future productivity.

“It’s not the typical sow herd,” she said.

The sharp decline in pork output has kept prices elevated, with a year-on-year rise of 116% in March, pushing up consumer inflation.

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

Imports have also soared to record volumes, 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% to 18.13 million tonnes.

Production in February was also hit by coronavirus-related curbs, with slaughterhouses shut in many places after Beijing extended the Lunar New Year holiday to contain the outbreak.

Poultry production was hit especially hard.

Reporting by Dominique Patton, Min Zhang and Hallie Gu; Editing by Himani Sarkar