Swine Fever Forces China To Release Emergency Pork Reserves

Pigs are seen at a backyard farm on the outskirts of Harbin
A Harbin pig farm feeds its flocks of pigs during the day. Pigs in China are in danger because of a swine fever outbreak in the country. (Photo: REUTERS/Hallie Gu)

The loss of more than 100 million pigs to a raging swine fever epidemic is forcing China to consider releasing its massive emergency reserves of frozen pig meat in a bid to boost fast dwindling supplies of this key food product.

China is home to more than half of all the pigs on the planet and the swine fever epidemic has wiped out a third of this population. The remaining two-thirds remain under threat from this killer disease, which is also called pig ebola.

Needless to say, the Chinese are the largest consumers of pork in the world. Because pork is a necessary ingredient in many Chinese foods, its scarcity might damage China's social stability while disorganizing the global pork supply chain.

Adding pressure to this stability are the atrociously high prices of pork throughout China as a result of the pork scarcity. The price retailers pay for pork has skyrocketed nearly 70% over the past year.

The average price wholesalers pay suppliers soared 90% in the last week of August year-on-year, according to government data. Analysts say prices will jump even higher within the year.

Some cities have introduced rationing that limits citizens from buying certain quantities of pork. Some local governments are offering discounts on pork to offset soaring prices.

The central government is also taking steps to defuse the pork crisis. It has authorized subsidies for pig farms and families battered by soaring prices.  On Wednesday, Beijing announced more measures to encourage pig farmers and producers to breed more pigs. But the severity of the swine fever crisis means these moves might prove inadequate.

Beijing is now promising to release its emergency reserves of frozen pig meat if the crisis reaches a tipping point. The Ministry of Commerce last week said it will "closely monitor market developments" before it makes such a decision, according to spokesman Gao Feng.

The crippling swine supply shortage is being worsened by pig farmers not restocking their live pigs after the sick animals die, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. This fact has forced authorities to explore ways to encourage farmers and producers to breed more pigs.

Both the finance and agricultural ministries on Wednesday urged local governments to provide funds for artificial insemination technology. They also called on local officials to speed up the distribution of subsidies to farms where pigs have been culled because of swine fever.

Beijing also plans to increase subsidies, loan support and insurance coverage for pig producers nationwide.

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