Efforts continue to keep African swine fever from crossing US borders. As the disease is detected in more and more places around the world and pigs are culled to stop the spread, China may need to begin importing US pork. Could this be the factor that tips the scales in our trade negotiations with China?
Smuggled Pork Seized
The US has never had a case of African swine fever, and officials are doing their best to keep it that way. Michael Hirtzer of Bloomberg News reports that US federal agents seized 1 million pounds of smuggled pork from China to a port in New Jersey.
Their concern is that the meat may be infected with African swine fever, a virus that is devastating the Chinese hog herd. Humans cannot be infected, and there is no harm in consuming the meat- but the virus is easily transferable and deadly for pigs. Meat products and animal feed can carry the virus. There is currently no vaccine to prevent the disease.
This was the largest ever seizure of any agricultural product here in the US. The pork arrived at the New Jersey port in over 50 different shipping containers over a period of several weeks. It was hidden in boxes of ramen noodles and laundry detergent. Anthony Bucci, a public affairs specialist at U.S. Customs and Border Protection said,
“At this point, it’s an ongoing investigation,” Bucci said by telephone, adding that the customs agency is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Highly Orchestrated Plan
Jennifer Shiike also covered the story for AgWeb. The efforts that were put in to conceal the meat are concerning. Stephen Maloney, the Customs and Border Patrol’s acting port director for the Port of New York/Newark said the whole thing was “highly orchestrated.”
Over 100 Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents and K-9 teams worked to uncover the smuggled pork. In some cases the packaging on the manifest matched the boxes inside the shipping container, but inside the packaging was the smuggled pork. In other instances, the pork was packaged among other products.
Once all 50 shipping containers have been confiscated and thoroughly examined, it will be incinerated. The African swine flu virus can survive for 150-180 days in fresh meat and indefinitely in frozen meat.
Keeping African Swine Fever Out
Any African swine fever here in the US could ban our exports and lead to even more market loss. US pork producers are already struggling due to the Chinese tariffs, and adding African swine fever on top of that could be catastrophic.
For now, hog prices have jumped on the speculation that China will be forced to import US pork after culling so much of their herd. June futures climbed 11% last Friday, which is a record gain for the contract. Shares of meat producers also rose.
Humeyra Pamuk and Tom Polansek of Reuters report that federal agents are working with the US Department of Agriculture on the case. Bucci would not disclose whether the smuggled pork was infected with African swine fever, but that they were suspicious of the possibility. Bucci said,
“The seizure was in an effort to battle the spread of African swine fever.”
Disease is Being Detected in More Places
China has reported 112 outbreaks of African swine fever in 28 different provinces since last August. Most of the outbreaks occurred on farms. One was reported at a slaughterhouse.
The illness can kill hogs in two days. It’s estimated that China has culled over 1 million hogs in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
The disease seems to be spreading fairly quickly, says Jane Chung of Reuters. Vietnam confirmed their first few cases of the disease in February. And earlier this month South Korea discovered that sausage brought in by a Chinese traveler was contaminated with African swine fever. The disease has yet to spread to any pigs there.
Canada at Risk?
African swine fever has not been detected in Canada, though some are beginning to scrutinize some of the country’s pork imports. Robert Arnason of the Western Producer reports that Canada continues to import pork products from Poland, even though there have been multiple cases of African swine fever there. Al Mussell, an economist who studies Canada’s livestock industry, said this practice is a real threat to Canada’s hog industry. If African swine fever did appear in Canada, other countries might ban imports of Canadian pork, which could cause billions in economic damage.
So why is Canada allowing pork imports from Poland?
Apparently, Canada is permitting imports of Polish pork only from zones that are free from African swine fever. The country is operating on the concept of biosecurity zones, which is a practice that is supported by the pork council. Mussell says it comes down to trust. If Canadian officials don’t have full confidence in Poland’s approach to African swine fever, then continuing to import their pork is taking a pretty big risk.
“We’re falling back on the integrity of the system in Poland … (and) there is a whole lot of faith being placed on that.”
Could African Swine Fever Tip Trade Negotiations in US Favor?
Eric Pheiffer of Hoosier Ag Today says that African swine fever may swing the Chinese trade negotiations in US favor. Daily negotiations between the two countries occur via telephone and video conference, but no face-to-face meeting between Trump and Xi has been scheduled. Arlan Suderman, Chief Commodities Economist with INTL FCStone, told Hoosier Ag Today that African swine fever is becoming a very big problem for China.
“Our team in Shanghai tells us that they believe that hog feeding is down 20%. That they’ve liquidated 10 million sows, that compares to a breeding herd in the United States of about 6.3 million. So, that’s a major liquidation that’s taken place. Soymeal demand is down similarly.”
Suderman thinks China will need to start importing US pork soon.
“Over the last week to 10 days we have seen a sharp increase in pork prices across much of China as tightness in supplies is now starting to develop. Initially we had a surge of supplies as producers liquidated their herds. Now we’re starting to see the tightness start to develop and that’s raising hopes that maybe we will see a significant uptick in imports of US pork, that’s yet to be seen, and probably or possibly poultry and beef as well.”
Suderman says there are still a lot of unknowns. We don’t know the size of China’s pork reserve, or whether or not it’s been used up. The size of the reserve is one of the main factors that will determine when China will start needing to import US pork. If China needs US pork, they may be more inclined to compromise on a trade deal.