The rapid march of African swine fever (ASF) through China and much of south east Asia not only exposes the impact disease pandemics have on livestock numbers, but also the interconnected nature of modern global food supply chains.
Producers are closely monitoring the ongoing devastation the disease is causing in China, the world’s largest consumer of pork, and the poultry industry’s big players are no doubt wondering how they can capitalise on the shifting demand for protein caused by the outbreak.
For UK pig producers, the number one concern will be ensuring ASF does not reach these shores. With a 100 per cent mortality rate, China’s pig herd of close to 500 million head is predicted to shrink by one-third by the end of 2019.
With 40 per cent of the herd farmed by smaller units of less than 30 sows, the disease has the ability to cripple China’s rural social infrastructure, as well as its pig population.
With more than 1.4 billion people in China consuming 55m tonnes of pork every year, ASF is causing global pork markets to flux and prices rise at wholesale level as countries shift their exports to different markets looking to plug emerging holes.
Denmark’s shipments of pork have surged since the disease took hold and Brazil is hoping to be one of the big winners, given its ability to produce vast amounts of both pork and chicken.
Whether other proteins, such as beef and lamb, can capitalise on the situation will be interesting, although it is pork and chicken which tick the price box for many consumers around the world.
At a time when some commentators openly yearn for a return to simpler small-scale agriculture, the ASF nightmare in China puts into perspective the reality that feeding a growing world population is built on vast supply networks which stretch across continental and commercial boundaries.
China’s economic power is vast and, perversely, the spread of ASF has only reasserted that fact.