CHINA, Beijing. The government is spreading optimism, but independent sources report new ASF outbreaks and high losses from other diseases.
In China, the pig population reportedly continued to grow in January. The Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing recently reported that the number of sows increased by 1.1% compared to December, up 35% year-on-year. This was the sixteenth consecutive month of growth, it said. According to the ministry, the number of other pigs increased by 2.1% compared to the previous month, also surpassing the January 2020 level by 35%. In December, the agriculture department put the sow herd at 41.61 million head and the other herd at 406.5 million head.
The ministry expects pig slaughter to increase by about 40% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year, and to return to 2017 levels, pre-African swine fever (ASF), in the second half of the year. The improved supply situation is expected to lead to falling pork prices. However, according to independent reports, which also cannot be verified, sow numbers are said to have fallen for the first time in January as slaughtering increased due to outbreaks of ASF and low productivity. There was also reportedly a noticeable increase in the proportion of low-weight pigs being slaughtered. Bloomberg news agency reported that up to 15% of the nation's hog herd may have been lost to disease during the harsh winter. Market observers also attributed this to the 2020 ban on antibiotics in feed, which has made pigs more susceptible to diarrhea and respiratory illnesses in cold weather.
Other experts estimate that 20% of sows in northern China are affected by new variants of ASF. This is milder and less deadly but is therefore harder to detect and leads to productivity losses. A study by the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute had recently confirmed the existence of new virus forms of ASF. It detected new mutations of ASF in samples from seven provinces in the second half of 2020. According to global breeding company Genesus, there are unofficial reports of recurring ASF outbreaks and problems related to an experimental vaccine. The health problems in the pig population could slow the recovery of Chinese pig production.