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African Swine Fever worries the food industry

Recent outbreak of African swine fever (ASF) has shed the lights once more on the consequences brought by spreaded viruses not only for health but also for the economy.

ASF is harmless for humans but spreads rapidly among domestic pigs and wild boars through direct contact or exposure to contaminated feed and water. Farm workers can unwittingly carry the virus on shoes, clothing, vehicles, and machinery. It can survive in fresh and processed pork products; it is even resistant to some disinfectants.

Endemic in most of Africa, the ASF virus jumped to the nation of Georgia in 2007 and has since spread through Russia. It probably entered China in imported pork products. Infected animals suffer high fever, internal bleeding, and, most often, death, and there is no treatment.

The spread of this virus in Asia is taking a worrisome turn. It has jumped Chinese borders to Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, Hong Kong, and possibly North Korea. Animal health experts agree that the disease will inevitably spread farther.

Chinese farms have significantly improved hygiene procedures since 2019, but it still circulates constantly, often spiking in winter. Infections this year began to surge relatively late in the season, around the Lunar New Year holiday in January.

Chinese hog prices have hovered around 15 yuan ($2.18) per kilogramme since late last year, pressured by weak demand and excess supply.

According to farm managers and analysts, the surge in ASF infections in China is set to reduce hog output later this year, pushing up prices in the world's top pork consumer as demand recovers.

The disease outbreaks, as well as the prior herd reductions, will lead to fewer hogs reaching the market when demand improves in the second half of the year.

“Talking about pork meat consumption, Hong Kong and Mainland China are world leaders” says Pierluigi Pollio, co-founder of the consulting firm Virgilio - Creating Value “and the spread of ASF could significantly impact meat trade. People are willing to invest in their health and of course prefer a more controlled, safe meat; and governments will likely set toughest restrictions on imports and internal controls. Although this could be a very good moment for brands to import their meat to Asia, current regulations may vary from one day to another, giving importers a hard time. Working with a trusted partner in the field of distribution may be more important than ever.”

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