Deadly hog fever arrives in Germany, Europe’s top pork producer

Bloomberg | Updated on September 10, 2020

The virus kills most infected pigs within 10 days but is not harmful to humans; detected in dead wild boar found near the Polish border

A deadly pig disease has just entered Germany for the first time, threatening to hammer exports from Europe’s biggest hog-producing nation.

A confirmed case of African swine fever has been identified in the eastern state of Brandenburg, Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner said on Thursday at a news conference in Berlin. The virus, which kills most infected pigs within 10 days but is not harmful to humans, was detected in the corpse of a wild boar found near the Polish border.

“The suspected case unfortunately has been confirmed,” Kloeckner said. “Tests were conducted on the boar at Germany’s animal health institute and sensitive areas will be cordoned off,” she added.

The European Union’s top pork producer and a key supplier to China, the largest consumer, has been training dogs to sniff out dead wild boar, stockpiling electric fences along the eastern border and urging drivers not to toss ham-sandwich scraps out the window to prevent the disease from entering the country.

The swine fever outbreak deals a further blow to the nation as it struggles with the coronavirus pandemic. A nationwide lockdown in the spring plunged the economy into its worst recession since World War Two and activity isn’t expected to return to pre-crisis levels until the end of next year at the earliest.

Germany’s largest pork plant was shuttered for a month this summer after more than 1,000 workers tested positive for the coronavirus, and additional abattoirs also faced temporary closures from outbreaks. That’s kept output below normal levels and meat producers throughout Europe and the Americas saw similar problems as slaughterhouses became hotspots for the virus.

As soon as a case of swine fever is confirmed, even if its a wild pig, German pork exports to countries outside the EU are no longer allowed, while sales to the bloc are still possible under certain conditions, according to the DBV farm lobby. Chicago hog futures rallied for a sixth straight session on Wednesday.

“German exports outside the EU could come to a fairly rapid halt if the case is verified,” Justin Sherrard, global animal-protein strategist at Rabobank, said before Kloeckner’s announcement. “That could benefit sales from other European shippers, including Spain or Denmark, as well as sales from US, Canada or Brazil.”

That would come at a time when Chinese purchases have been surging as the nation attempts to rebuild its own herds after African swine fever outbreaks there decimated production. The US Department of Agriculture expects global pork shipments to climb by nearly a fifth compared with 2019.

Neighbouring Poland has recently seen a rise in cases. According to the latest estimates from the European Commission, the nation has more than 3,000 confirmed infections, mostly in wild boar. The disease can be spread by direct contact between sick and healthy animals, as well as through feeding on garbage containing infected meat and by soft ticks.

“This would be the first confirmed case in Germany,” said Dennis Smith, a senior account executive at Archer Financial Services. “As a precaution, their exports of pork could be shut down. No one including China would accept pork from Germany until more is known.”

If the case disrupts exports, that could help push up prices in the US, which has been exporting record amounts of pork to China after African swine fever decimated the Asian nation’s herd last year.

“This is very friendly, bullish, to US pork prices, if German pork exports are shut down,” Smith said.

Published on September 10, 2020

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