(Bloomberg) -- The deadly swine disease roiling China’s hog farms is getting closer to one of its top overseas suppliers of pork.
African swine fever was found in 20 wild boar in Poland’s western Lubusz province this month, putting the disease within 80 kilometers (50 miles) of Germany, the European Union’s biggest hog producer. While eastern Europe has grappled with the virus for several years, the latest cases show Germany is “increasingly exposed” to a potential spread, the agriculture ministry said.
The EU has been a crucial supplier of pork to China, boosting exports as the Asian country tries to fill a meat shortfall brought on by the unprecedented outbreak. Those trade flows would be at risk if the virus spreads to the EU’s key producers, and the recent Polish cases follow similar ones in Belgium, on the other side of Germany, since last year.
The virus has “jumped further and faster than I think anybody expected,” said Rupert Claxton, meat director at France-based consultant Gira. “The loss of the China market would be a disaster” for the European pork industry if a bigger outbreak were to prompt broad restrictions on exports, he said.
EU pork shipments to China totaled 1.5 million tons in the nine months through September, jumping 55% from a year earlier, European Commission data show. That’s helped push pig prices to a six-year high, and China is “buying almost everything,” from hams to hearts to loins, said Tim Koch, a market analyst at AMI in Bonn, Germany.
China is targeting returning domestic pork supply to 80% of normal levels by the end of next year, according to Yang Zhenhai, head of the animal husbandry bureau at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. In the meantime, higher output of substitutes and more imports should help ensure China has enough protein supply, Yang said.
There haven’t been any cases found in Germany yet, and while it’s unclear what measures China would take if that were to happen, imports from all or part of Germany could be banned. European farmers have been hesitant to expand herds despite the improved demand, partly amid concerns of a disease outbreak.
Western Europe has so far been successful in limiting the virus’s spread. Belgium has reported infected wild boar since last year, but cases haven’t reached domestic farms or nearby nations. Spain, another key EU shipper, also remains free of the disease.
For now, the threat is greatest in eastern Europe. Polish veterinary authorities are erecting fences and making more searches in the impacted region. Countries including Romania, Ukraine and Bulgaria have also had outbreaks, and Serbia and Slovakia reported their first cases this year.
“We’re learning more about how to control it, but at the moment it’s not a winning battle,” Claxton said. “We’re slowing it rather than beating it.”
(Updates with China’s hog target in sixth paragraph)
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