China imported more than one-million tonnes of meat in 2018, making it the world’s largest market for beef products

The recent global outbreak of African swine fever has created an opportunity for the SA beef industry to boost exports to China, local industry players say.

African swine fever is a severe viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs, and can cause serious production and economic losses. The disease does not affect humans and the consumption of pork is safe, but spreads rapidly among domestic pigs and wild boars through direct contact or exposure to contaminated feed and water.

Recent statistics suggest that the Chinese meat industry is booming, with more than one-million tonnes of meat imported by the Asian giant in 2018, making it the world’s largest market for beef products.

The outbreak of African swine fever has increased demand for alternative protein sources, such as beef, said Gert Blignaut the chief operations officer at Beefmaster Group.

Earlier in May, the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries announced that the disease had been detected in Gauteng, North West, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

The disease has spread across Asia. To date, China has culled just over 1.1-million pigs in an effort to halt further spread. Vietnam culled a further 500,000 pigs over the past two weeks to tackle the outbreak, taking the total killed so far to 1.7-million, or 5% of the country’s herd, the country’s agriculture ministry said on Monday. Pork accounts for three-quarters of total meat consumption in Vietnam.

The culls mean that the affected countries will have to begin importing pork to compensate for lost production, which could result in massive price hikes.

Blignaut said the outbreak of African swine fever has created an opportunity for the South African beef industry, provided that the country’s foot and mouth (FMD) disease-free status is restored so that China resumes beef imports from SA.

Foot-and-mouth disease broke out in Limpopo in January, resulting in the World Organisation for Animal Health temporarily suspending SA’s foot-and-mouth disease-free zone status.

Earlier in May, China announced that it would resume the imports of hides, livestock skins and wool from SA, following a suspension on these and all beef products exported to the Asian country from SA because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth. However, the Asian nation has not yet resumed the import of beef products from SA.

China currently imports red meat from Brazil, New Zealand, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Australia among other countries.

“We need to regain our FMD-free status to avoid further delays, which could have negative consequences on our economy and the beef industry if not restored soon … It would be positive for the SA economy to yet again get a slice of the pie when it comes to the export of beef products,” said Blignaut who returned from Shanghai last week after representing Beefmaster Group at SIAL China 2019, Asia’s largest trade expo.

“The Chinese food import market is highly competitive, and there is an increasing demand in China for high-quality beef products due to a growing middle class,” he said.