WASHINGTON – Outbreaks of African Swine Fever have taken a toll on China’s pork industry, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Dept. of Agriculture said in its China Livestock and Products Semi-Annual report.

As of March 11, China has reported 115 outbreaks of ASF to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The outbreaks have occurred in every significant pork production region in China. By the end of 2019, according to FAS, China’s swineherd is forecast to shrink 13 percent to 374 million head, and pork production in the country is expected to retreat 5 percent to 51.4 million metric tons (MT). As a result, China will increase imports of pork by 33 percent to 2 million MT, FAS said in its report.

“While US pork products still face retaliatory Chinese tariffs of up to 62 percent and process verification requirements, if these are removed, US producers could significantly increase exports to China,” FAS reported.

“While the actual amount of pork imported in 2019 depends on a number of factors, two key drivers will be the ASF situation in Europe and US-China trade relations.”

Meanwhile, countries that trade with China are stepping up efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly swine disease. For example, the United States is increasing detector dog teams with US Customs and Border Protection to sniff out illegal products at key domestic commercial sea and airports. Recently, USDA-trained detector dogs were key in the seizure of pork smuggled from China.

The US also is restricting imports of pork and pork products from affected countries and expanding the testing capabilities and capacity of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network.

And Canada recently announced new funding of up to C$31 million to increase the number of dogs trained to sniff out illegally imported meat.

ASF is harmless to humans but can cause high mortality rates in swine. There is no vaccine and no cure for ASF. FAS said outbreaks are significantly underreported in China, which is contributing to tensions over this animal health crisis.

“Many ASF outbreaks in China have simply not been reported because of a number of reasons,” the report stated. “First, there is a lack of incentive for farmer to report.” The report explained that subsidies paid to farmers for culled animals remain well below levels needed to provide farmers a financial incentive to report outbreaks.

Second, discrepancies between Chinese media-reported outbreaks and official reports may indicate that outbreaks aren’t being reported and farmers aren’t receiving much-needed assistance. “Some contacts have reported instances where individuals were actually discouraged or prevented from publicizing outbreaks in their region,” FAS said in its report.

Finally, FAS said, “…it is highly improbable that outbreaks along major transportation corridors and in densely populated swine production regions are isolated incidents.”

Consumer concerns over ASF already have spurred demand for alternative proteins. Prices for poultry have jumped in response to increased demand, and sales of beef and mutton have seen unseasonable increases, according to the report. However, low supplies of pork in some regions of China have pushed prices to record highs and consumers to find alternative proteins. However, pork remains the protein of choice in China.