Chinese pork output beats expectations in 2020, after swine fever hit

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s pork output fell less than expected last year as it recovered from the impact of an incurable hog disease that depleted breeding stock, official data showed on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: A vendor wearing a face mask prepares pork meat inside the Yuegezhuang wholesale market, following new cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections in Beijing, China June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

China’s 2020 pork output declined by 3.3% from a year earlier to 41.13 million tonnes after plunging 21% in 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.

Some analysts expected a bigger fall in 2020 after an outbreak of African swine fever hit China in mid-2018 and meant the country’s breeding stock had declined an estimated 60% by mid-2019.

The 2020 reading is “quite high, higher than I expected. In November, we probably expected a 10-15% decline,” said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.

Xiao Lin, analyst at Shenzhen-based Win & Fun Investment, also said she had expected a decline of between 5% and 10% in 2020 output.

Strong policy support and incentives helped revive the sector by unleashing more than 200 billion yuan ($30.87 billion) in investment.

China slaughtered 527.04 million hogs in 2020, the data showed, down 3.2% from the same period a year earlier.

Output in the final quarter jumped to 13 million tonnes, Reuters calculations showed. That is up 21% from 10.74 million tonnes a year earlier and higher than 8.4 million tonnes in the third quarter.

Pork prices have still risen significantly since end-November, reaching 47 yuan per kg last week, almost level with a year ago.

“That’s the signal that there’s a very big shortage,” said Pan, adding demand had not increased significantly.

The data also showed China’s pig herd rose to 406.5 million heads at end-2020, from 370.39 million at the end of September.

Customs data on Monday showed China imported a record 4.39 million tonnes of pork in 2020 to plug a domestic shortage, with December arrivals surging 63.1% year-on-year to 440,000 tonnes.

Overall meat imports in 2020 were close to 10 million tonnes.

Beef and lamb output rose slightly in 2020, by 0.8% and 1% respectively, the NBS data showed, while poultry output grew 5.5%.

($1 = 6.4795 Chinese yuan)

Reporting by Dominique Patton; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Barbara Lewis