China’s devastating outbreak of African swine fever, nicknamed “Pig Ebola” by outside observers, has compelled the destruction of millions of pigs and created a shortage of pork severe enough to put dog and rabbit meat back on the menu in rural areas.
African swine fever is not considered dangerous to humans, but it spreads through pigs with horrifying speed and can survive for long periods of time while it is carried on other animals or even human clothing. No vaccine is available, so infected pigs must be killed to prevent the fever from spreading. The most dire projections say China will lose over half its herd this year, which will wipe out almost a quarter of the global pig supply.
The damage to China’s pork industry has been extensive enough to disrupt the global food chain and factor heavily into China’s trade war with the United States. Pork prices in China rose more than 40 percent over the summer and more than 100 percent for the year in some areas. Consumers fear more shocks are coming because they suspect the official government figures are understating the severity of the epidemic.
The pork price surge is big enough to rattle the entire Chinese economy and turn bond yields negative for the first time in years. Analysts believe the pork shortage is so serious that Beijing cannot address the problem by tapping into national emergency reserves, a strategy it began implementing in August.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported on Tuesday that Chinese diners are learning to make do without pork, an extremely popular food in China, and turning to more readily available meats like dog and rabbit. Supermarkets are pushing rabbit at discount prices while pork vendors are going out of business and pork is becoming a luxury item.
“The Chinese government has instituted emergency measures to boost pig supply, trying desperately to help farmers expand production while scrambling to import pork to sure up supply,” the SCMP wrote.