African swine fever is decimating the world’s largest hog herd in China.  Affected animals have now been reported in every province in China, and the disease has spread to neighboring Mongolia, Vietnam, and Cambodia.  Rabobank International has projected a 30-percent decline in Chinese pork production for 2019.  Some analysts have said this could lead to a 40-percent increase in the price of pork belly and a surge in demand for other animal proteins, including chicken.

At least 129 outbreaks have been reported since African swine fever was first identified, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.  It estimates that one million exposed animals have been exterminated and the interruption in production has reduced China’s overall hog population by 40 million.  However, experts say infection numbers and the number of culled pigs have been underreported.

“It’s so much more than one million pigs, but no one knows for sure,” said Dermot Hayes, an economist at Iowa State University, who runs a small center that studies Chinese agriculture.  “China penalizes the provinces that report the disease, so reporting is not a good measurement,” Hayes said.

The virus can be spread by live or dead pigs, domestic or wild, and via pork products.  There is no treatment or vaccine for African swine fever and the only way to stop the disease is to cull all affected swine herds.  The virus is not communicable to humans.

U.S. hog prices have been struggling, so the specter of a Chinese shortfall could be a boon to American producers.  China is the largest producer of pork and the largest consumer of pork.  The Chinese consumed about 56 billion pounds of pork last year, which accounts for more than half the global total.

Even with Chinese tariffs on American pork imports at 62 percent, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the largest demand for U.S. pork in 2019 will come from China.  USDA anticipates that Chinese pork imports will rise 41 percent for the year.  In March, China bought 23,800 metric tons of pork, it’s biggest purchase in nearly two years.

African swine fever has not been reported in the North American.  Jaydee Hanson, policy director for the Center for Food Safety, called for additional safeguards to keep pig meat from China out of pig feed.  “The U.S. Department of Agriculture needs to make sure this virus does not come into the U.S. We are a major pork producer ‘decimation’ would be too small a work, Hanson said.

African swine fever is a hardy virus, one that can remain alive in pelletized animal feed.  Pet food would be a possible mechanism for the virus to reach North America, Hayes said.  “It would be a strange scenario, someone feeding garbage containing leftover pet food to backyard pigs in the U.S.” he said.

In March, USDA announced enhanced biosecurity measures to prevent the disease from spreading to the United States.  USDA also announced research on reliable testing procedures to screen for the virus in grains, feeds, additives, and oral fluid samples.