Pig producers could benefit from soaring prices as the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak currently hitting China and some neighbouring countries reduces production.
But the boom could soon become bust if China, to which pork is strategically important, clears the epidemic and re-invests in its production.
Richard Brown, director of research consultancy GIRA, told the Pigs Tomorrow conference in Hinckley, Leicestershire, pig producers around the world would benefit from making up the shortfall in Chinese production.
The severity and speed at which the outbreak has taken hold could be seen from the changes in GIRA’s production forecasts.
In December, it projected China’s 2019 output would be between 50 and 60 million tonnes, a figure it revised down to between 35 and 40m tonnes in April 2019.
And he suggested it could fall further in 2020, but stressed that in such a fluid situation the figures would change continually.
The outbreak had spread to Vietnam, Cambodia and probably beyond to countries such as Myanmar and Thailand, at a time when the region’s meat consumption was set to rise sharply.
Demand in China had been projected to rise 17 per cent between 2017 and 2027. By contrast, EU consumption is projected to rise 0.2 per cent in the same time.
Replacement supplies could come from the EU, Brazil and Canada.
Mr Brown said: “I have no doubt American pork would find its way into the country, most probably as a grey import through Hong Kong.”
While there might be a shortterm benefit, in a few years’ time things could be reversed.
He added: “When China does recover, as it will because pork is strategically important to the country, it could lead to a global oversupply and a lot of bloodletting.”
That might take four, five or six years, he suggested, but could lead to a global price crash.