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Virus crisis forces China to boost meat imports

China is importing unprecedented meat volumes to bolster its food stocks, with the rampant buying exposing a highly contagious swine virus’ brutal impact on the country’s pork levels.

The latest Meat and Livestock Australia figures show China’s pork, poultry beef and sheepmeat imports ballooned 34 per cent year-on-year in April to a record 467,000 tonnes shipped weight.

The surge comes as African swine fever slashes China’s pig population, reportedly accounting for the death of more than 1 million infected pigs since it was detected last August.

MLA market insights analyst Tim Ryan said the increased Chinese demand for other animal proteins was plugging the meat gap caused by the deadly ASF’s epidemic toll on pigs.

“Part of this import expansion has been underpinned by the spread of African swine fever across China,” Mr Ryan said.

“As the extent and reach of ASF across China has become clearer, estimates of the pork shortage have been gradually revised higher.

“While investment may be directed into alternative protein production, the supply response will take time.”

Since ASF was reported on Chinese soil last August, evidence of an ASF-backed meat import boom was limited with China covering shortfalls by drawing on its frozen product stocks.

However, the latest MLA data found Australia’s red meat exports to China had soared in the ASF aftermath.

Beef and sheepmeat were among the major Australian exports to China, climbing 61 per cent and 44 per cent respectively between January and May.

Although ASF contributed to some of China’s salivating hunger for Australian red meat, Mr Ryan said demand had also come from the country’s increasing affluent population.

“Just as the US pork industry awaits a trade war resolution, Australian red meat exports remain exposed to the trade spat potentially damaging the health of the Chinese economy and diminishing wealthy consumer purchasing power,” he said.

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