China's WH Group says use of unapproved swine fever vaccines reduced hog supply

FILE PHOTO: Workers sort cuts of fresh pork in a processing plant of pork producer WH Group in Zhengzhou, Henan province China, November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Dominique Patton

BEIJING (Reuters) - Use of illegal African swine fever vaccines by some Chinese hog producers last year reduced output of hogs and will support prices in 2021, an executive from leading pork processor WH Group said on Tuesday.

China has been trying to rebuild its massive hog herd since the deadly African swine fever virus ravaged the country’s farms during 2018 and 2019.

But use of unapproved vaccines in a bid to protect against the disease had the opposite effect and ended up killing pigs, said Ma Xiangjie, president of Henan Shuanghui Investment and Development, WH Group’s domestic unit.

Pig prices rose significantly at the end of 2020, as supplies tightened, said Ma, defying expectations of growing hog output.

“Since the second half of last year some pig producers in China, especially south of the Yangtze river, used some immature pig vaccines and caught African swine fever again,” said Ma, after the company released its annual earnings.

The company has raised its forecast on pig prices this year due to the impact of “toxic vaccines”, he added, though said prices will still be on average lower than in 2020.

The company said it processed 46% fewer hogs in China in 2020 compared with the prior year because of tight supply but lifted its imports to make up the shortfall.

Reporting by Dominique Patton, editing by Louise Heavens