Podcast: The Detail

Episode 9: Pork prices about to go sky high

African Swine Fever has so far slipped under the radar in New Zealand, but it's the reason pork prices have recently risen by 25 percent. 

The virus has hit China in a big way, with 200 million pigs so far culled. Swine Fever is almost always fatal. It has no cure and no vaccination. Contaminated herds must be destroyed, their pens completely cleaned out and farms re-stocked with uninfected beasts. It is not harmful to humans, and we don't get sick eating products contaminated with this strand of the virus. Feeding scraps to pigs however, even cooked scraps, will spread it. 

China is the world’s largest producer of pork, with 47 percent of global production. However it is also the largest consumer of pork, and most of what it produces is consumed domestically. The country's moves to import the deficit is causing a world wide shortage - hence the price rises. China is forecast to increase its pork imports by 60 percent this year.

In New Zealand MPI hasn't tested for the virus, saying that's because all pork products brought in illegally are confiscated and destroyed at the border.  

Dr Chris Rodwell from the Ministry for Primary Industries says fresh or frozen pork is only imported from ASF free countries, zones of regions.

Our border control is also on high alert. “Any traveller arriving in New Zealand with illegal pork, or other meat products, will have these items confiscated, and penalties will apply for travellers with undeclared meat products. The confiscated meat products are destroyed,” he says. 

New Zealand Pork has been calling for greater border protection with the fever is spreading through Asia and Eastern Europe.

General manager David Baines says in Australia, 15 percent of confiscated pork tests positive for the virus - which has grown from five percent in testing two months ago.

He says while African Swine Fever may have a significant effect on meat prices, potentially for a number of years, the experience in China demonstrates how devastating the disease could be if it reaches New Zealand. If it arrives on our shores, it could wipe out the entire country's pig stocks. 

For China, pigs are an easy protein to breed in a country which is largely landlocked. The meat is used in celebratory dishes; from dumplings at Chinese New Year to mooncakes during the Dragon Boat festival.

African Swine Fever has survived for over a decade and it looks to be spreading. China’s neighbours: Vietnam, Cambodia and Mongolia have recently declared the virus has hit their pig population.

The Detail was made possible by the RNZ/NZ On Air Innovation Fund.

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