'Chinese Swine Flu outbreak could lead to greater export opportunities for Irish pigmeat exports'

Claire Fox

Claire Fox

The outbreak of African Swine Fever in China could lead to increased exports for Irish pigmeat to the country in the medium term, Director of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) Cormac Healy has said.

In recent weeks more than 200,000 pigs have been culled in the northern region of China due to the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) and on Sunday it was announced that the disease has spread to the southern region of the country.

While Mr Healy said in the short-term the Chinese situation could lead to increased domestic production which would dampen demand, he added that Ireland has the potential to take advantage of the situation in the medium term if significant culling occurs in the Asian country.

“The ASF outbreaks in China have created a great deal of uncertainty there in the short-term. It presents a major challenge to China’s pig sector and will certainly have an impact on domestic production and output there,” he said.

“In the short-term it could lead to more domestic product coming onto the market which would dampen import demand. That said, restrictions on movement of pigs within China could lead to some regional shortages.

“However, in the medium term, as we move into next year, if significant culling within the domestic Chinese pig herd takes place, then it should create greater import opportunities.”

However, Mr Healy said it is important that the Irish industry is conscious of ASF closer to home as last month it was announced that the disease had spread from eastern Europe to wild boar in Belgium.

“The recent outbreak of ASF in wild boars in southern Belgium has the EU pig sector on edge. The response of most international markets has been to close there border to Belgian pork.

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“Should ASF spread into neighbouring France or Germany and international markets close to their exports, then we face a massive surplus of Pigmeat on the EU market.”

“The jump of ASF from Eastern EU member states to Belgium should be a wake-up call to everyone. Maximum vigilance is essential in terms of imports, controls and biosecurity,” he explained.

According to Bord Bia exports to China in 2017 amounted to €93m and it is the key export market for Irish pigmeat in international markets, with Chinese meat consumption continuing to rise due to rising living standards and increasing urbanisation.

Bord Bia's Mike Neary pointed out while Chinese is traditionally self-sufficient in pig-meat production, he said that any local issue in supply could be of benefit to Irish pig-meat exporters.

"Any issues that impact the local Chinese industry and local supply could potentially lead to an increased demand for imports. For Irish pigmeat exporters, challenges lie in competition from other EU competitors, domestic supply and increased consumption of poultry and beef by Chinese consumers," he said.

"In the medium to longer term it is expected that Irish pigmeat exports to China will increase."

Teagasc’s Head of Pig Knowledge Transfer Ciaran Carroll said Irish farmers are hopeful that the spread of the disease will lead to an increase in pig prices, which currently stand at around €1.40/kg, 40c below the price 12 months ago and well below the break even price of €1.60/kg.

“Somebody’s cloud is somebody else’s silver lining. China will have to import more as they are culling due to their being 100pc mortality rate on farms. So Irish farmers are hopeful this spread will leads to an increase in price for pigs at home,” he explained.

“The difference in price in affected Chinese regions compared to non affected is €23 per pig, so Irish pig farmers might be able to gain from this.”

Mr Carroll said the risk that the disease could spread to Ireland is minimal but that farmers and workers still need to be vigilant as on affected Chinese farms mortality rates have been 100pc.

“The disease has been contained to wild boar in the southern region of Belgium and is being dealt with by the government there. We are at an advantage because we are an island nation and farmers are well tuned in to risks but they still have to be vigilant as the disease can be passed on through bi-products and if this gets in to the pigs feed it can be fatal,” he warned.

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