Fundamental changes are shaping global pig production. Global pork production in 2011 dropped to 109 million metric tons of pig meat produced, according to the FAO food and agriculture organization of the United Nations. Pig meat production is down from the same agency’s preliminary figure of 110.2 million metric tons; it is also considerably below the 109.9 million metric tons of pork the FAO reported in 2010.

Producing less pork
 An annual downturn in the total world volume would be unusual— it has happened only once before, in the past 11 years—although the percentage rate of expansion achieved during each decade has been declining since 1960. As Chart 1  illustrates, the decrease in 2011 also narrowed the gap between pork and poultry meat for global tonage, while both still maintain a faster growth rate than beef.

Asia-Pacific remains the largest region of the world for yearly pork production. In round terms, it supplied 57 percent of all output in 2011. By comparison, its share was more than double that from Europe, which provided twice the amount, produced in North America and this in turn was approximately double the quantity from Latin America.

But the 2011 world production estimate for pig meat should also be seen in the context of the major national producers. Table 1  shows the amounts recorded as having been produced in the 20 countries with the biggest annual tonages. These countries account for 86 percent of the global pork total in 2011. Table 1data suggests that several countries even managed a modest growth in their own pork output. Nonetheless, the combined production of the Top 20 fell by 1.25 percent or around 1 million metric tons.

The figures in Table 1 underline how the overall result was affected by a drop in China’s national pig production. Over three-quarters of the world’s pig meat is supplied by China, the United States and the European Union (EU-27). Our lineup lists EU members individually. Together, the full 27-country community produced nearly 22.4 million metric tons of pork in 2011, up marginally from 22.01 million metric tons in 2010.

Judging by the three trends depicted in Chart 2, the EU seems to have made a recovery from the feed cost crisis of 2008 and 2009 while the US continued to enjoy the benefits of its increased pork exports. China, by contrast, experienced a reduction in 2011—attributed to the combined effects of low margins and increased disease problems.

Breeding sow inventory
 However, the inventory of breeding sows in China is considered to have increased year-on-year by the end of 2011, as shown in Table 2 . For the 30 countries listed, total sow numbers grew from about 84.4 million in 2010 to almost 86 million in 2011.

The danger would be in viewing this as an expansion, when it was evidently because of the return of the Chinese national breeding herd to the size it had reached in 2009 before disease forced a cutback. Take China out of the equation and the other 29 countries sow numbers dropped from 36.9 million to 36.7 million.

A further reduction in sow inventory is predicted for the more mature markets worldwide as an adjustment to new circumstances, not least the continuing rise in herd productivity.

In the US, for example, an analysis by the FAPRI food policy unit at the University of Missouri pointed out that the US sow herd of 2011 was 20% smaller than 20 years ago—but output in 2012 is still expected to be 35 percent more than in 1992 because of the extra productivity obtained per sow.

In the European Union, a key consideration currently is the likely impact of new legislation demanding that pregnant sows be loose-housed instead of being confined in individual stalls. Most sources expect that older pig producers or farmers with small herds will decide to quit rather than undertake the expense of rebuilding. Forecasts start at 5 percent for the reduction in EU pork output that will occur because of the pending animal welfare law.

Chart 3  demonstrates how the number of sows in the EU-27 countries has fallen by 15 percent since 2004.

Pork trade agreements
Legislation and financial considerations provide only part of the explanation for the reshaping of the global pork industries that is now occurring. Another factor proving to be especially potent is the response of local investors to the position of their home country in new or impending international trade agreements.

Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization has given an example, by leading to predictions that local pork production will struggle to compete with imports. The opposite of a positive response to a trade accord can be found in members of the ASEAN pact of Southeast Asia which expect a forthcoming wider Asian accord to benefit the pork industries in Thailand and Myanmar.

According to several expert observers, the element that is most influencing change in the pig industry profile is the rapid disappearance of backyard swine production in a number of developing nations. Average unit size keeps increasing even in developed countries. In Canada, the average number of pigs per farm increased by 31.5 percent between 2006 and 2011, on new calculations from Statistics Canada. But the departure of the backyard pig farmers under cost pressures since 2000 has been particularly marked in China. Although commercial pig producers are growing, their expansion has struggled to compensate for the loss of inventory in small-scale herds.

Global pork production
 What is coming next? FAO analysts are predicting global pork production will rebound in 2012 to a new record of 111.7 million metric tons, an increase from 2011 by around 2.6 percent. The main influence is reckoned to be a reduced incidence of disease affecting Asian pig industries, but the agency has also identified growing policy support by a number of governments.

Add to that the return of some countries to the role of pork exporter. Mexico is an example in this instance after its official recognition as being free of classical swine fever (hog cholera), although Taiwan will be another to watch as it wins the battle against foot-and-mouth disease.