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African Swine Fever Continues To Devastate China’s Pork Supply, But U.S. Farmers Are Unlikely To Fill The Need

Tyson Foods released its third quarter earnings on Monday with a statement from CEO Noel White on African Swine Fever and the Chinese import market. “Given the magnitude of the losses in China’s hog and pork supplies, the impending impact on global protein likely to be a multi-year event,” said White. But don’t count on African Swine Fever to benefit U.S. pork farmers anytime soon, as barriers between between U.S. pork exports and the Chinese consumer remain firmly in place. And with China’s most recent decision to halt imports of all U.S. agricultural products, commodities like soy are threatened, too.
African Swine Fever, or ASF, is a highly contagious virus that has the potential to do serious damage, with some researchers estimating Chinese pork production could fall by as much as a third because of the disease. That’s significant for a country that produces almost half of the 114 million metric tons of pork produced globally each year. At the same time, the impact may not be felt right away, if it’s even felt at all.
Lucinda Cramsey, an eighth-generation hog farmer from La Belle, Missouri, says the Chinese still have plenty of untainted pork in reserve. “They’re going to make their way through those frozen pork bellies first,” the founder and CEO of Moink says, before we “find out where they’re going to pull their protein.” With animal scientists working tirelessly to develop a vaccine, it’s possible the virus could be wiped out before those stores are fully depleted.
If China does end up increasing its pork imports, it’s unlikely it would turn to the U.S. at this point. David Ortega, PhD, an agricultural economist at Michigan State University who has researched Chinese consumer pork preferences, says a sizable portion of U.S. pork is ineligible for export to China. “The Chinese currently prohibit imports of pork that have been given ractopamine, [a feed additive and growth additive] used readily in U.S. pork production,” says Ortega. 
In July, China suspended all pork imports from Canada after finding ractopamine in a pork shipment from Canadian producer Frigo Royal Inc, as well as a number of other discrepancies. China also canceled pork orders from the U.S., which prompted a tweet from President Trump threatening a further retaliatory tariff. Now, just this week, China announced a halt to all U.S. agricultural imports, Bloomberg reports.
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