CHICAGO (Reuters) - There will be no in-flight movie or cocktails but the squealing passengers on the 16-hour one-way trip will fly first class.
About 235 hogs specially selected for their genes will be flown from Chicago to South Korea in June to rebuild the herd there that has been decimated by foot-and-mouth disease.
Tony Clayton, president of Clayton Agri-Marketing Inc., a Jefferson City, Missouri,-based animal shipping business, has been tasked with getting the animals across safely.
“They travel really well. They have enough room to lay down, enough room to walk and get water. They travel better than some of us people in economy class,” said Clayton, who could be considered a travel agent of sorts for livestock.
Three 747s filled with Clayton’s hogs will fly to South Korea in June and more will follow as the rebuilding will take years as about 35 pct of that country’s herd was destroyed.
South Korea is the fourth largest market for U.S. pork, but in late 2010 banned hog imports as it fought to contain foot and mouth disease. It has since relaxed that ban and Clayton’s hogs will be the first shipped this year.
South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, has culled nearly a third of its hog population and about 5 percent of its cattle, which have led to food inflation.
Clayton, who has shipped hogs and cattle to countries such as Vietnam and Mexico, said animals seldom die during flight.
The United States rarely ships live hogs and cattle. In 2010, about 89,146 cattle and 24,207 hogs were exported. Beef and pork exports are more common, with the about 2.30 billion lbs of beef and 4.23 billion lbs of pork shipped that year.
Clayton, whose customers in South Korea arranged for the shipment, said getting the animals through security and quarantine takes a bit longer than for people — about 30 days, which ensures the animals are healthy and free of disease.
Clayton’s hogs will establish the genetic traits the South Korean customers want and will be the great-grandparents and grandparents of progenies fattened for meat production.
“Right now their main emphasis is on pork because that is going to be their top consumed protein,” said Clayton.
The rebuilding may require the country to import about 50,000 hogs over the next few years, many from the United States, as well as Canada and Europe, said Michael Phillips, president of U.S. Livestock Genetics Export.
While Clayton’s focus is now on South Korea, his attention will soon turn to China.
China’s growing population and economy have pressured leaders there to increase meat production, particularly pork. It recently lifted a two-year ban on U.S. hogs and pork, clearing the way for hogs to fly there.
“The Chinese will probably come in and regain being the best customer in Asia.” he said.
Barring a souring economy or other unexpected events, Clayton estimates China could buy 10,000 breeding hogs a year for the next couple of years.
Restarting service to the Chinese market will take time, because U.S. producers need to breed the hogs China wants.
“China will probably be the big player for the rest of the year, once our breeders get retooled and get more numbers available,” said Clayton.
Editing by K.T, Arasu and Rene Pastor