RALEIGH — With near record-high stockpiles of pork belly on hand and African swine fever hitting Asia and parts of Europe, the U.S. appears well-suited to reap large profits in pork exports.
According to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture last Tuesday, the stockpiles of pork belly are close to the highest levels in 48 years, reaching close to 40 million pounds. Back in August, stockpiles of pork belly, which is the cut used for bacon, reached 45 million pounds.
Export sales of pork began to rise sharply in October, with China, Japan, Korea and Mexico leading the purchases according to the USDA’s Oct. 24 export report. Traders and financial analysts theorize that the drastic increases in the importing of pork may bring about a shortage of pork domestically.
The increase in stockpiles and the production of pork over the summer months is likely linked to increased demand from China after outbreaks of African swine fever killed nearly 100 million pigs.
Scientists from the World Organization for Animal Health have estimated that further outbreaks could result in a third of China’s pig population being decimated and that the African swine fever could kill a quarter of the world’s pig population.
President of the World Organization for Animal Health, Dr. Mark Schipp, told reporters in a briefing at the end of October, that a large reduction in the world’s pig population would lead to possible food and pork product shortages as well as high pork prices.
Schipp called it the “biggest threat to any commercial livestock of our generation.”
There is no vaccination for African swine fever which only affects pigs. Those infected with the disease have a 100% mortality rate. The disease is financially devastating for a farm that has an outbreak because once a pig with the fever is identified, the entire stock of pigs has to be destroyed.
The USDA reported in 2018 that U.S. pork exports totaled over 5.3 billion pounds and were worth around $6.392 billion. As of Sept. 1, 2019, there are around 9.5 million pigs being raised in North Carolina on over 2,100 farms across the state.
As the second-largest pork producer in the United States, North Carolina’s pork exports are currently worth around $650 million. The pork industry in North Carolina generates $3 billion in income and $8 billion in annual sales according to the NC Pork Council.
Around 10% of America’s pork exports come from North Carolina, according to the USDA data, but an increased export demand could result in temporarily higher export ratio.
So far, there has not been an outbreak of African swine fever in the United States and the USDA does not allow importing of pork products from countries where outbreaks have occurred.
In March of this year, the USDA APHIS Veterinary Services released a response model detailing strict reporting and quarantine procedures. Last month, North Carolina was among 14 states who participated in USDA sponsored preparedness training related to African swine fever.
Outbreaks of the fever are not limited to China and have spread throughout central Asia into Cambodia, Mongolia, Thailand, Myanmar and even the Philippines. Russia has also reported 60 outbreaks in both domestic pigs and wild boars along the China-Russian border.
Countries like Bulgaria have seen 30 outbreaks while pig farms in Slovakia, Poland and Romania have also been hit According to the World Animal Health Information Database (WAHIS) Interface, the majority of cases in Bulgaria’s outbreak involved wild boars.
A least 10 European countries had outbreaks, as reported by the European Union Commission over the summer. In the World Organization for Animal Health’s October update, 24 countries are cited as having outbreaks, with 12 of those being in Europe.