China releases more pork from reserve to cool prices

Friday, September 20, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 38

BEIJING (AP) — China's government is releasing more pork from stockpiles to help cool surging prices ahead of celebrations of the Communist Party's 70th anniversary in power.

The government said Thursday it will auction off 10,000 tons of pork, the country's staple meat. It was the second release in two weeks following a similar announcement Sept. 18.

The price of pork has almost doubled from a year ago due to a devastating outbreak of African swine fever that killed or prompted authorities to destroy many herds.

The disease is fatal and highly contagious for pigs but does not harm humans. Smaller outbreaks in South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and Mongolia have led authorities to impose quarantines.

The crisis in China is a sour political note for the ruling party, which bases its claim to power in part on improved living standards over three decades of market-style economic reform.

Authorities have promised to keep food prices stable ahead of the party's celebration Tuesday.

The release announced Thursday is equivalent to less than 0.2% of China's 2018 monthly consumption of 4.7 million tons. That suggests the move was a signal to consumers and farmers of Beijing's determination to cool prices instead of an attempt to change supply levels.

China produces and consumes two-thirds of the world's pork.

The price of pork in China has risen 82.7% from a year ago and that for live hogs is up 89.5%, the Ministry of Agriculture reported Thursday.

The shortages have pushed up global pork prices as Chinese importers buy foreign supplies.

The government keeps reserves of live pigs and frozen pork to guarantee adequate supplies.

Details of the reserve are secret but industry analysts estimate its size at up to 3 to 5 million metric tons. They say it probably is too small to have an impact on supplies in the market.

Also this month, authorities announced an initiative to revive pork production with support to farmers including subsidies to rebuild pig herds and improve facilities.