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African swine fever epidemic benefits Finnish meat industry

China’s pork shortage may be an opportunity for Finnish meat producers.

Luomuporsaita karsinassa.
Image: Jari Kovalainen / Yle

A virus decimating China's hog industry is likely to benefit Finnish meat processors who are selling more pork to cover shortages caused by African swine fever.

Juha Gröhn, CEO of Finnish meat company Atria, said the firm's exports to pork-loving China could double this year as African swine fever sweeps over the country which produces half of the world’s pork. With outbreaks reported in every part of mainland China, some analysts predict up to 200 million pigs could die or be culled this year, causing a huge shortage of pork locally.

This year Atria expects to export five to seven million kilos of pork to China—the world’s largest consumer of pork. Atria, which began pork exports to China two years ago, now expects a temporary spike in demand. The company is, however, not planning to up production to avoid running the risk of a surplus.

“Most likely China will solve the problem, shrinking export opportunity,” Gröhn explained.

Finnish food group HKScan, which has been exporting to China for the past year, told Yle its products were fetching slightly higher prices in the Chinese market.

“Our goal in the first year was three million kilos, increasing to nine million kilos by year three,” said Jukka Nikkinen, HKScan export director.

Story continues after photo.

Terveysviranomaiset hautaavat maahan sikoja Vietnamin Hanoissa. Samalla he ruiskuttavat desinfiointiainetta kuolleisiin sikoihin Hanoissa sijaitsevan eristetyn karanteenissa olevan kuopan sisälle afrikkalaisen sikaruton leviämisen lopettamiseksi.
Health officials bury infected pigs in Vietnam. Image: Manan Vatsyayana / AFP

China’s increased demand for foreign pork has already raised global prices. In the EU, the average price for 100 kilos of pork has jumped from 135 euros in February to 175 euros. Spain and Germany are the EU’s main pork exporters, with the bloc's sales expected to grow by 11 percent this year over 2018, according to Pellervo Economic Research PTT.

Finnish pork producers have faced sustainability problems, which is why the Finnish agricultural lobby group MTK said it hoped the upward price pressure brought on by Chinese demand would trickle down to farmers.

“This is a welcome boost if it also raises producer prices,” said Marjukka Manninen of the MTK.

Johannes Piipponen of Pellervo said he believed Chinese consumers will eventually turn to chicken and beef as scarcity drives up pork prices.

But HKScan said it believed in the power of pork.

“Pork is a central part of Chinese cuisine, and it’s on the dinner table every night,” Nikkinen said.

While African swine fever doesn’t pass from pigs to humans, it is a major threat to pork production globally as no effective vaccine or treatment exists.

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