There’s a concern in Spain about the ASF outbreak, since it has expanded in Eastern Europe — in countries such as Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, mainly due to the high population of wild boars. But ASF also represents the possibility of expanding a market that loves pork.

The global outbreak of African swine fever (ASF), already present in several continents, has led to the slaughter of more than 900,000 hogs in China, and Rabobank estimated that between 150 and 200 million of these animals would be slaughtered only in this Asian country. This could cause a fall in pork production in China of "up to 30 percent in 2019," Justin Sherrard, an analyst at Rabobank, told Reuters.

The disease has already boosted the future lean pork price on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), according to the Spanish newspaper El País. The price of pigs went from around US$0.61 per pound at the beginning of 2019 to more than US$0.95 in April, the highest since 2014, “when another epidemic, of swine diarrhea in the United States, caused a decrease in the North American production,” the article stated.

Despite the concerns brought on by the outbreak, the Spanish pork industry also sees an opportunity.

“We have been saying for years that China is a strategic market for Spain because they are capable of appreciating the quality of what we do and our food security, and they have realized that Spain guarantees it,” said to El País Daniel de Miguel, a representative of the international area of Interporc, an interprofessional white pig organization in Spain. 

Despite the fact that China is the largest pig producer on the planet, with 54 million tons annually (47 percent of the global total), it is not self-sufficient, so it needs to import at least three percent of the demand. In fact, in 2018, “frozen pork was the third export product from Spain to China, worth EUR238 million (US$268 million)," according to the same article.

Even if it is a figure 20 percent lower than in 2017, recent events could result in a rise, because even the United States, one of the main exporters of pork to the Asian country, maintains a trade war that could benefit Spain.

In addition, in November 2018 Chinese President Xi Jinping and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez signed protocols to export fresh pork from Spain.

“If prices in China are rising, the country will import more for the benefit of its consumers,” De Miguel added.

“If our competitor countries encounter swine fever, it may be the biggest boon for Aragonese livestock production (northern of Spain), which has shown that we are capable and efficient to multiply our production in a short period of time. This is an example of how bad news can be an opportunity,” said the general director of the Spanish Confederation of Compound Foods for Animals (Cesfac, in Spanish), Jorge de Saja, according to Diario del Alto Aragón.

The autonomous community of Aragón became in 2018 the largest pig producer in Spain, with 7.88 million animals, surpassing the 7.7 million of Catalonia, which previously occupied the main position in pig production. Both produce 51 percent of the Spanish pig census, according to Periódico de Aragón.

However, not everything would be positive for Spain, since there is a possibility that “global pressures” will be reflected in Spanish markets. The price of the kilo of live pork has reflected a rise of 30 percent so far this year, exceeding EUR1.30 (US$1.46), according to the wholesale market of Lleida, which is used in Spain, added the report of El País.

Attention to wild boar hunters

Last year, EFE Agro reported that the pig sector was on alert in Spain before the ASF outbreak, although it recognized the low probability of transmission by transporters or tourists traveling with meat products infected with the virus due to restrictions imposed by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and by the European Union.

In addition to calling on pig breeders to take biosecurity measures, the Royal Spanish Hunting Federation warned hunters of the risk of transporting boar trophies that could be contaminated. However, the organization exhorted the hunters to increase the hunting of wild boars because of the “overpopulation” that exists.