Coronavirus sends China’s meat prices opposite ways

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It has been a tale of two meats: the impact of the coronavirus outbreak has sent China’s chicken prices lower, while pork prices continue to rise.

Both meats became more expensive in 2019 after African swine fever — a deadly disease affecting pigs — dramatically reduced the country’s herd and pork production. But this year, chicken prices have fallen sharply owing to weakened restaurant demand during the health crisis. This was after a surge in production ahead of January’s new year celebrations, which were curtailed by the disease.

The price drop “put further pressure on already negative poultry producer margins and caused farmers to slaughter chicken and layers, pouring even more supply into the market,” said James Heneghan, analyst at commodities analytics firm Gro Intelligence.

Pork is a different story, according to Gro. The release of state reserves late last year helped push down prices, but they are rising again. The coronavirus has exacerbated supply problems as roadblocks and lockdowns have affected the flow of the meat to consumers, as well as delaying the launch of new breeding facilities. The US Department of Agriculture is forecasting China’s pork production this year will fall more than a third to 36m tonnes. This should increase the county’s reliance on overseas suppliers. Chinese pork imports jumped an estimated two-thirds last year and the USDA predicts another 42 per cent rise in 2020 to 3.7m tonnes.

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