Pork's 700 Pound Gorilla

May 13, 2019


If you are in the pig business, it seems that all anyone wants to talk about these days is African Swine Fever.  It is definitely the 700-pound gorilla in the pork producer's world.  

Last August, the Chinese government announced that they had identified African Swine Fever (ASF) in Liaoning Province on several farms.  Since then ASF has spread through every single province in China, and now Vietnam and Cambodia.  China's pork production operations vary from tens of thousands of small, backyard operations, to large confined operations.  Every type of service has gone through outbreaks. Estimates run as high as 30% or more of China's pork herd has been lost due to ASF so far. 

Think about that.  China has half of the hogs in the world.   If they truly have reduced their herd by 30%, that would equate to having reduced their herd by 120 million head. All the pigs in the U.S. add up to 75.5 million head.  All pork exporting countries in the world together cannot make up the Chinese losses and feed their own citizens. 

ASF cannot be spread to humans or other domesticated animals.  It is a systemic disease that has a relatively low infection rate. It does not seem to be air-borne like other swine diseases such as PRRS or PED.  Its primary mode of transmission appears to be related to human biosecurity breakdowns. Currently, there is no commercially available vaccine.  The reports on the likelihood of one becoming successful are mixed. 

Currently, 30% of U.S. pork production is exported.  That will come to a screeching halt if there is an ASF outbreak in this country.  Prices would have to fall drastically to try to encourage the consumer to eat the extra pork that the U.S. could not export.  It could cost the U.S. pork industry $8 billion the first year.

Can the U.S. keep it out of the country? Some say it is only a matter of time before we get ASF here.  They use PED as the prime example of China-to-U.S. disease transmission.  The identifying of PED in China, to the determining of a same strain in the U.S., only took a little over a year.  

Others point out how much we have learned since the PED outbreaks in 2013.  The industry has adopted higher standards of biosecurity in trucking, milling, and production facilities.  Products and feed ingredients imported from China are being scrutinized now based on manufacturing practices, process biosecurity, and the time of survivability of the virus.  Others point out that China has had Foot & Mouth Disease and Classical Swine Fever for 20-30 years now, and we have not seen them spread to the U.S.  

That 700-pound gorilla has everybody in the pork industry nervous.  The potential for long-term losses is very real.  Agriculture is a gamble every year, but ASF is a tough bet to guess.

by Steve Jones
  
 
Posted: 5/13/2019 8:30:20 AM by Kristin Petersen | with 0 comments