Giant on the move
‘Swine’ flu in world pig center
By Niu Shuping and Ken Wills
Nevermind that the H1N1 “swine” flu, which has killed more than 150 people in Mexico, is not directly caused by pigs and has so far not led to any outbreaks among pigs.
Nevermind that the World Health Organization has ruled out any risk of infection to humans from eating pork.
Nevermind that the influenza-A virus contains DNA from avian and human as well as swine H1N1 viruses, but unfortunately (for the pork industry) has been tagged as “swine flu” by global health authorities and therefore by the media.
The net result is that, amid the confusion and potential risks of appearing unprepared, at least six countries have decided to panic over pigs, imposing import bans on live pigs and pork products from Mexico and the United States.
China’s quaratine authority took immediate action by banning pork imports from Mexico as well as 3 states in the United States, vowing to destroy any pigs that arrived at its borders. On Tuesday, in a meeting hosted by Premier Wen Jiabao, China’s cabinet worked out an 8-point flu prevention strategy, including one to strengthen inspection to detect any outbreaks of swine flu among pigs and to strictly supervise trade of live pigs as well as some pig breeding areas.
Why all this attention to pigs?
Agriculture Minister Sun Zhengcai said the possibility of the virus spreading to pigs cannot be ruled out, although there was no mention that the avian portion of the virus’s DNA might also lead to an outbreak among poultry.
To be fair, screening of people arriving at China’s airports has also been stepped up, though so far no human cases of the flu have been announced in the country.
What is clear is that when the world’s most populous nation raises concerns about a staple food in the country’s diet, it most certainly will affect prices. Early signs are that consumers have begun to avoid pork, much to the dismay of breeders and others in the industry. In fact many farmers want to avoid publicity at all costs for fear that any further news coverage – even to correct the misimpressions — will hurt business.
The Beijing News on Wednesday reported that pork prices in the capital have dropped significantly. It cited a pig breeder in a Beijing suburb, Li Wei, as saying he worries that consumers might shift to mutton or beef if the “swine” flu scare keeps spreading.
Two years ago, China’s pork industry was racked by blue ear disease, which decimated pig numbers and caused prices to spike skyward. Since the start of the year, prices have been falling in response to subsidies Beijing offered to replenish supplies. Now they’re dipping faster, this time in part due to government efforts to protect the sector.
Hopefully, when we look back, the sudden recent dip in pork prices will turn out to have been the worst of China’s casualties from the global flu scare.
Photo captions: Top: A labourer feeds piglets at a farm on the outskirts of Suining, Sichuan province April 27, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer. Bottom: Piglets suckle milk from their mother at a farm in Ganyu County, Jiangsu province April 27, 2009. REUTERS/China Daily