BEIJING, China (DTN) -- More reports of African swine fever in China have caused panic in the country's hog industry as well as among pork consumers in China. If the disease continues to spread, it could also reduce feed demand and lower the amount of soybeans China imports.
The first case of the disease was found in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, in northeast China on Aug. 1, which led to 913 hogs being culled. After that, four more cases were reported in middle China's Henan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui provinces in August. The disease causes high fever, loss of appetite, hemorrhages and death in two to 10 days. Mortality rates may be as high as 100%.
The situation appears to be getting worse, as more cases have been reported recently. So far, the total reported number of outbreaks has jumped to 13, with four happening in one day, Sept. 6.
"Most of the African swine fever cases were in northeast China and east China," said Dongping Lu, a purchasing manager for Yangxiang Stock Co. "Northeast China is the largest soybean- and corn-producing area, close to Russia, while east China is one of the most developed areas, as well as the main hog-producing and pork-consuming area." Yangxiang Stock Co. is one of the largest feed and hog companies in southeast China's Guangxi Province.
The outbreak and spread of the disease has also gotten the attention of China's Ministry of Agriculture.
"There was no African swine fever reported in China before. We are sure this disease was introduced from other countries," said Gongmin Wang, deputy director of the Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture. "There are many ways that could bring the disease to China, such as transportation methods, imported cargos, as well as human travel. We still cannot figure out how the disease is being introduced to China."
Pork consumers are worried about the impact of the disease on human health. Local consumers said that the price of pork is lower because of the panic. Nationally, the average pork price is down 7% to RMB 13.20 per KG ($0.88 per pound) at the end of August from RMB 14.20 per KG ($0.93 per pound) at midmonth, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Wang assured Chinese consumers they have nothing to fear from the disease. "African swine fever is not a zoonotic disease and will not affect food safety," he said during a press conference in Beijing. A zoonotic disease is one that can be transmitted from animals to people.
Lu said some hog-processing companies have recently been slowing down their slaughtering and keeping hogs in stock for more days due to unfavorable pork prices.
"But, they could not hold them for a long time, as feed consumption will increase," Lu said. "So, in the short run, soymeal demand may increase as those extra long-term hog stocks will consume more feed."
In the long run, though, the impact on soymeal demand may be just the opposite.
"It is only about one month after the first African swine fever (case) was reported, while the trend is breaking out in more regions in China," said Lu. "We do not know whether the government can control the disease or not, so it is too early to estimate the impact on the hog industry and feed industry. But, this will definitely reduce feed demand and impact China's soybean imports."
Suifeng Duan, first soybean industry chain analyst for the Ministry of Agriculture, said China may decrease its soybean imports by more than 10 million metric tons (367 million bushels) in the 2018/19 crop year.
After October is normally when China's hog industry builds up stocks as hog farmers prepare for the holiday season. Those animals will be ready for market during the New Year's season in January and Chinese New Year's season in February. However, fears of African swine fever will likely cut stocks in the upcoming livestock production season, which in turn will reduce feed demand.
"The decrease in feed demand will reduce the demand of soybean meal in the feed industry," said Lu.
After China applied a 25% tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation for tariffs that the Trump administration placed on Chinese products, Chinese crushing plants had stopped buying new-crop U.S. soybeans. The market is expecting that old-crop soybean imports will dry up around December. If China does not import more U.S. soybeans, the government will have to release its strategic reserve to the market to meet the domestic demand. Based on this situation, soybean meal demand could be very tight at the end of the year.
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