Asia bans imports of pork from Germany over fears of African swine fever

GERMANY – Germany’s pork producers have been cut off from key Asian markets after a boar with African swine fever was reported, a major setback in an already challenging year for meat producers following COVID-19 outbreaks at plants.

Japan joined China, South Korea and Singapore in halting German pork imports. The bans followed quickly after German officials confirmed the presence of the porcine plague in the carcass of a wild boar.

African swine fever spreads through contact with infected animals and can also be spread by people and trucks. It is almost always fatal in pigs but does not harm people.

Germany has sought a limited, regional ban on exports as the outbreak near the Polish border is hundreds of kilometres from the major producing region in north-west Germany. Whereas the concept of a regional ban exists in intra-EU trade, China has so far stuck to a national ban.

German exports included large tonnages of pig parts such as ears, noses and feet which are regarded as delicacies in Asia but are unwanted in Europe.

German pork exports to China are worth around 1 billion euros (922.7 million pounds) annually, and volumes had doubled in the first four months of this year on soaring demand after Chinese output shrank around 20%.

“The Chinese export stop is a hard blow for farmers and for industry in Germany,” said André Vielstaedte, spokesperson for Germany’s largest meat-packer and exporter Toennies.

While announcing the latest ban on Saturday, Chinese officials said the measure would go into effect immediately, meaning all of the pork imported from Germany would be either destroyed or sent back. China has been struggling with its own ASF outbreak since late 2018.

Some 70 percent of German pork exports is shipped to other EU countries, but about one-quarter ends up in Asia.

The restrictions mark a heavy blow for the German meat industry, which had already been shaken by outbreaks of coronavirus in several large meat processing plants earlier this year. The outbreaks also drew nationwide attention to abysmal housing and working conditions for the employees.

The ban of German shipments should, therefore, provide major opportunity for rival exporters and CME lean hog futures have risen to a six-month high.

“I think Germany’s pork sales to China will be replaced by a series of other exporters such as the United States, Spain, Canada and Brazil. Some EU exporters are also likely to seek extra sales such as the Netherlands and Denmark,” said Rabobank analyst Justin Sherrard.

In August, Brazil sold 50,700 tonnes of pork to China, up 168% from the same month a year ago and accounting for more than half of total export sales of 98,500 tonnes, according to ABPA, the association representing pork and poultry processors.

Canada, another major pork exporter, has limited room to increase volumes with China which already accounts for nearly half of Canada’s pork exports, said Richard Davies, Executive Vice-President of Sales at Olymel lp, one of Canada’s biggest pork shippers.

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The country’s other big pork processor, Maple Leaf Foods, is suspended from shipping to China from its Brandon, Manitoba plant after a COVID-19 outbreak there.

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