Despite 2019 having been China’s official “Year of the Pig,” things could not have been much worse for the nation’s swine herd, its farmers or the country’s 1.4 billion consumers who have a strong preference for pork as a protein.
On a positive note, official reports of African swine fever (ASF) outbreaks in China were more of a trickle in the second half of last year compared with the prior nine or so months. However, many industry experts believe that the country has little hope to rebound its ability to produce more pork in 2020. The main reason? The breeding herd. Last year, every province officially became ASF-positive. This resulted in the country losing about half of its swine herd, which equates to roughly one-quarter of the world’s swine herd.
According to Dave Pyburn, the Pork Checkoff’s chief veterinarian, China’s ASF woes are many.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely here and hope that China will see some relief,” Pyburn said. “But it’s not looking very promising with reports of ongoing ASF outbreaks and no real sense that an overall control strategy is being adhered to in the country. Without a stringent control methodology that’s fully implemented, ASF will continue to plague China for years.”
In the run-up to the Chinese New Year, which starts on Jan. 25, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs has organized nationwide ASF control measures focused on pork slaughter facilities. This entails implementing self-ASF detection and an official veterinarian station in slaughterhouses, conducting responsible meat quality inspection, not keeping “unqualified” products in inventory and stock management, and maintaining a safe meat production system to ensure safety and quality of meat.
In yet another blow to China’s pork situation, in December the nation’s official media outlets reported intentional ASF infection of healthy swine herds by criminal elements. The gambit is based partly on the buildup to China’s official Lunar New Year celebrations, starting Jan. 25. The criminals know that consumers stock up on pork, which increases demand and causes prices to soar. By successfully infecting healthy pig farms using technology such as drones laden with ASF-positive material, the outlaws then offer the farmers deeply discounted prices for their pigs and sell the pork on the black market for huge profits.
Vietnam shows some promise
While it’s not time for celebration in Vietnam regarding ASF, there is a glimmer of hope. Along with the government’s collaboration on much-needed assistance from the outside to control the deadly disease, recent statistics show some promise, with only 152,000 pigs culled in November compared with last May when 1.2 million pigs were either culled or died.
First detected in February last year, ASF has spread to all 63 provinces of Vietnam. According to a report by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, ASF in Vietnam led to the death and culling of about 5.9 million pigs, or about 22% of the total swine population, pushing prices to record highs. Although the end of the ASF outbreak can’t be known, the rate of reported ASF cases appears to be slowing.
With its ongoing work in Vietnam, the Swine Health information Center (SHIC) has continued to make headway on its USDA-funded research grant on several fronts. According to SHIC’s executive director, Paul Sundberg, the main benefit for U.S. producers is to learn how ASF acts on farms today and responds to various control measures so that they can be prepared to respond to it here if needed.
“This research is allowing us to see firsthand how ASF responds in pig populations of 500 or 1,000 at a time and not just 10 or 12 in a pen like we can do in our highly controlled research facilities in North America,” Sundberg said.
Last month, Vietnam’s ministry of agriculture released more rules concerning restocking of pig farms and selling of live pigs and pork. All pork producers received a letter advising them to minimize the risk of disease recurrence in accordance with current regulations on restocking. They also were advised to adhere to strict application of biosecurity, avoid hoarding to ensure price stability and to not be involved in illegal trading of pigs or slaughtered pigs across the Vietnam border.