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ANALYSIS: Animal viruses overshadowed by Covid-19


The Coronavirus outbreak which started in China - reportedly in an animal food market - has wiped an estimated $3 trillion (and rising) off the global stock markets but has displaced concern over other viruses hitting livestock markets.


From Bulgaria to Beijing livestock markets are undergoing culls in efforts to prevent the spread of viruses that are lethal to animals but cannot transfer to humans.


The World Health Organization (WHO) in January this year said that avian flu (H5-types) has been detected in 24 instances in six east European countries. In Bulgaria almost 6,000 ducks were culled at a farm in February. In the Czech republic 140,000 turkeys and chickens were destroyed after H5N8 was detected.


In India, the equivalent of $182m has been lost from slumped sales of chickens, after (untrue) rumours that Covid-19 is spread by poultry.


Swine fever jolts meat trading


Just as concerning as Covid-19, but gaining far less public attention, is African swine fever. Because it cannot be transmitted to humans it tends to get overlooked. Swine fever is deadly for pigs.


Some 3,000 have just died from it in an outbreak in Indonesia, and in China swine fever has reduced the pig herd by more than one-third in the past year with an estimated 100m pigs dead.


China’s meat imports rose by 63% in the first 11 months of 2019, year-on-year, and expectations are that, with Chinese incomes and dietary tastes in its urban areas now widely comparable to those of Europe, demand for meat imports will be equally robust in 2020.


Higher prices all round


China is the world’s biggest pork consumer. Its pig herd has been devastated by swine fever and that cut in local production, added to the ongoing USA/China trade spat, have "combined to produce very high levels of volatility" in pig futures trading, according to a statement by CME Group, the derivatives marketplace which deals in lean hogs.


So from April 13, says CME, it will raise the daily trading limits for its lean hog futures to 3.75 cents/pound from 3 cents, expanding to 5.5 cents is any of the front eight contract months settle at the initial limit. Hog futures settled at their daily limits 31 times in 2019, according to CME.


Of course the interaction of the impacts of Covid-19 and the African swine fever virus on China’s supply and demand are impossibly complex. But - when and if - the jitters over Covid-19 recede, the devastation wrought by swine fever will undoubtedly persist.


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