Pigs are prolific breeders, reaching sexual maturity at six months, and with each sow capable of giving birth to up to a dozen piglets, after gestation lasting an average 115 days. Thus it is a remarkable testimonial to the devastating impact of African swine flu that China’s pig population will take over five years to return to its pre-epidemic size, according to experts from Rabobank, a global agricultural finance institution based in the Netherlands.
- Since the epidemic began in August 2018, in a little over one year more than half the Chinese pig population has been wiped out by the flu or preemptive culling, leaving less than 200 million pigs still alive.
- The huge drop in supply and consequent rise in prices will change Chinese eating habits for a long time to come, Rabobank analyst Chenjun Pan warns: “It isn’t fully appreciated that the market will take years – probably half a decade to rebalance. Even when the market does rebalance, it’s going to be a different meat environment in China.”
- The epidemic isn’t confined to China, and Rabobank expects it will ultimately kill around a quarter of the world’s pig population. That will contribute to even higher prices, meaning China will be unable to fill the gap in its domestic market with pork imports.
- To deal with the crisis the Chinese government is encouraging people to eat more replacement meats like chicken and beef. However pork will remain the most popular meat in China: Rabobank expects its share of animal protein consumption to fall from 63% to 53%.