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China unveils plan to boost pork production

Authorities outlined a three-year plan to boost its pig-breeding facilities in a bid to restore the country's swine herd, devasted by African swine fever (AFP Photo/GREG BAKER)

Beijing (AFP) - China will free up as much land as possible to restore pork production to pre-swine fever levels -- including areas designated pig-free zones for environmental reasons, the agriculture ministry said Friday.

Authorities outlined a three-year plan to boost its pig-breeding facilities in a bid to restore the country's hog herds, devasted by African swine fever.

This will involve making the process for acquiring land for pig-breeding easier and working to reduce "forbidden" zones for pig farming by the end of 2020, the ministry said.

Formerly "pig-free" cities and counties -- protected for environmental reasons -- must be "reformed" to restore hog production to normal by 2021, according to the plan.

An outbreak of African swine fever that began in August last year has devastated China's pig herds and sent prices of the staple meat soaring in what could become a political and economic liability for the state.

More than a million pigs have been culled due to the disease, according to official statistics, but that is widely considered to be an underestimate.

This, in turn, has also pushed up prices of other meats including beef, chicken, duck, and eggs as consumers switch to other protein sources.

To meet demand, Beijing has increased pork imports, with shipments from the European Union rising 37 percent between January and April, according to European Commission figures.

Earlier this month China also said it would resume beef and pork shipments from Canada after blocking them in June, as Beijing's relations with Ottawa remain strained over a detained Huawei executive.

National regulations allow local governments to ban the rearing of livestock in certain areas to control pollution, protect nature reserves, and keep water supplies clean.

Authorities have in recent years ordered large-scale cleanups of pig farms, requiring farmers to install waste disposal systems and move foul-smelling piggeries away from drinking water sources and urban areas.

But as Chinese authorities scramble to control prices in the world's largest pork market, local officials are being pressured to reduce the scope of these protected areas.

The agriculture ministry said on Friday it would set up 120 "model farms" over the next three years using hog rearing techniques that can be widely replicated elsewhere in the country, and increase subsidies for pig farmers.

The ministry also said it would ramp up disease control measures and promote centralized professional disposal of diseased pig carcasses.