Don’t we have enough bad news? There’s always something slipping its way into our nightmares, and this one is the African Swine Fever sweeping across Asia.
It is being described as the biggest animal disease outbreak the world has ever seen. Its impacts are already profound in Asia and beyond, with increased export demand certain to support pork prices for the foreseeable future. There will be longer-term implications of Asia’s African swine fever (ASF) outbreak, too, concerning the production and consumption of pork, some of which are already becoming apparent.
Nice to know pork prices will be propped up by the ongoing devastation. But read the rest: a quarter of the world’s pig population faces imminent death. And it’s spreading!
Official figures from China show the national pig herd had declined by 32% year-on-year by July, with an estimated 100 million pigs lost already. While some of the losses will be directly or indirectly linked to the disease itself, the reduction is also being heavily driven by vast numbers of producers choosing to slaughter their herds and get out of pigs before the virus gets to them.
Rabobank is forecasting that, by the end of the year, China’s pig herd will have halved. Given that it numbered 700 million and accounted for half the world’s pigs before ASF struck in August 2018, the damage the virus is causing is plain for all to see.
And that is just China. ASF is continuing to spread across Asia at a worrying rate, confirmed in September for the first time in South Korea, where six cases were confirmed within two weeks, and the Philippines, where 12 cases were recorded in one area in a short time.
In Vietnam, infected soon after China, the virus has reached all 63 provinces and around 5 million pigs have been killed. Rabobank forecasts a 15-20% reduction in pork production in Vietnam this year.
An industry comprising millions of, often remote, ‘backyard’ farmers, with little concept of biosecurity was always going to be easy prey for a virus that can travel and survive in tiny quantities for a long time on animals, people, clothes, vehicles and equipment. It also became clear at an early stage that the virus had become embedded in the pig feed chain and was being spread via swill feeding. It is also in the human pork supply chain, helping its spread around the continent.
It hasn’t yet affected the American midwest (Hello, Iowa! I hear you’re a major pork producer?) or Europe, but oh boy, imagine the chaos if it did. I hope our understanding of biosecurity is more robust than that of Chinese farmers, but I have my suspicions that no, our local swine farms are not at all constrained by science. Capitalism, baby!