China's pork imports to double in 2019 as swine fever hits local output: analyst

WUZHEN, China (Reuters) - China’s 2019 pork imports are set to double from last year to 2 million tonnes, a Rabobank analyst said on Thursday, as African swine fever hits production of the meat in the world’s top hog market.

FILE PHOTO: A resident gets pork from a vendor at a market in Beijing, China December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China has reported 113 outbreaks of the contagious disease since last August, though farmers and industry insiders say several outbreaks are going unreported.

African swine fever, which does not harm humans, has a high mortality rate in pigs and has no vaccine or cure.

Chinese pork production will fall by up to 20 percent in 2019, Oscar Tjakra, a director of food and agribusiness research at Rabobank, told a conference in the east of the country. China typically accounts for around half the world’s output of the meat.

That means local production this year of between 50 million and 51 million tonnes, Tjakra told Reuters on the sidelines of the event, down from last year’s 54 million to 55 million tonnes.

The United States agriculture department’s attache in Beijing has forecast pork production at 51.4 million tonnes this year, down 5 percent from 2018, with imports seen at 2 million tonnes.

China’s pig herd declined by 15 percent in 2018, according to Rabobank estimates, Tjakra said.

Pork production increased in the first three quarters of 2018, said Zhu Zengyong, associate professor at the Agricultural Information Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), but declined significantly in the fourth quarter after the disease began spreading rapidly.

He cited official data issued by the statistics bureau, which shows the number of slaughtered hogs fell 1.2 percent in 2018 to 693.8 million heads.

Pork output last year was 54 million tonnes, the bureau said.

The disease has totally disrupted the production plans of many major companies, added Zhu, with some halting expansion because of the disease.

Other speakers said the drop in output would hit feed demand hard.

China’s pig feed demand in the 2018-19 crop year that runs from October to September will fall 12 percent and soymeal demand in the same period will drop 5.5 percent, said Li Ning, general manager of commodity trader Living Water Trade (Shanghai) Co Ltd.

Li Qiang, chief consultant at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co Ltd said he sees pig feed consumption down 25-30 percent in 2019, and overall feed demand down from 12 to 15 percent.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Richard Pullin, Shreejay Sinha and Joseph Radford