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Posted on: October 16, 2019 at 9:16 am

The bigger, the better? Hmm, we’ll have to see how this plays out. 

Chinese pig farmers have begun to grow hogs as large as polar bears in light of the recent decline in pork supply. An African swine fever broke out about a year ago, causing the nation’s hog herd to fall by 50 percent in the first two-thirds of 2019. By the end of this year, it’s expected to fall by an additional 5 percent. The farmers who still have healthy pigs have resorted to growing them to be extremely large to meet up with the nation’s high demand for pork. China is the world’s largest pork consumer.

Pig farmer Pang Cong is now famous for breeding pigs that weigh over 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds), where the average slaughterhouse pig would weigh about 140 kilograms. One of these hogs could fetch him about 10,000 Yuan ($1,400). As reported by Bloomberg, this figure is over three times the monthly disposable income in Nanning, Guangxi province, where Pang lives and breeds his hogs [1]

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In Jilin, northeastern China, hogs that previously weighed about 275 pounds now weigh about 385 to 440 pounds, and possibly higher. Farmers like Pang are growing pigs about five to eight times the normal size.

Pork prices have surged 46.7 percent from what they were in 2018, and China is in desperate times as Pork accounts for 60% of the nation’s meat consumption. Wholesale pork prices have increased an overall 70 percent this year and pork inventories have dropped by 39 percent. 

Large companies adopting the trend

The giant pig breeding is not being practiced by the local farmers and hog herders only. Large farms and companies that manufacture and process pork are also aiming to maximize production as much as they can. According to Lin Guofa, senior analyst at the Bric Agriculture Group, the big farms are looking to increase heft size by at least 14%.

“The average weight of pigs at slaughter at some large-scale farms has climbed to as much as 140 kilograms, compared with about 110 kilograms normally,” Lin said.” That could boost profits by more than 30%.” Some of these big farms include Wens Foodstuff Group Co., China’s top pork producer, Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co., and Cofco Meat holdings ltd.

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A report by Rabobank estimates that the unstable market conditions of pork would most likely continue for the next five years [2]. The African swine fever has no cure or vaccine and is currently sweeping through over 50 countries in Asia [3]. While it’s not harmful to humans, it’s very deadly to swine. 

Rabobank estimates that pork production will fall from 25 percent to 15 percent in 2020, while animal feed consumption will drop 17 percent this year and pick up by 8 percent next year. This is due to the extra feed that would be required by the larger hogs. 

The government remains optimistic

According to Yu Kangzhen, the Vice Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, China produces about half of the pigs in the world and takes great pride in her pork industry. However, the national economy has been badly affected by the shortage. The government aims to implement policies to revive massive hog production, eradicate or control swine fever, and stabilize pork prices nationwide.

We are confident and capable of rising to the challenge, dissolving the risks and doing well in keeping prices in the pig market stable,” said Peng Shaozong of the National Development and Reform Commission. 

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According to the Vice Premier of China, the situation is “extremely severe” and the nation expects to lose about 10 million tons of pork by the end of 2019.

Huge Hogs: Solving One Problem to Create Another? 

While growing extra-large hogs may help to deal with a pork shortage, the wellbeing of the pigs is most likely at risk. Most commercial pigs are already selectively bred to grow to almost full size within 6 months, which puts undue physical strain on them. Their bodies are not able to accommodate the extra weight leading to health issues like joint pain. How these new extra-large pigs are being bred is another question. Most likely breeders are looking for desirable traits (i.e. big hefty pigs) and only allowing those pigs to procreate, leading to future generations of larger swine. This quite possibly will affect their welfare even more.

This begs the question, does meat need to be in demand as much as it is? It may be time we start eating less of it, and when we do, make it higher quality and more ethically sourced. Michael Pollan got it right, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”  

  1. News. China’s Breeding Giant Pigs That Are as Heavy as Polar Bears. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-10-06/china-is-breeding-giant-pigs-the-size-of-polar-bears. Retrieved 11-10-19
  2. Admin. African Swine Fever Affects China’s Pork Consumption. Rabobank. https://research.rabobank.com/far/en/sectors/animal-protein/african-swine-fever-affects-china-s-pork-consumption.html. Retrieved 11-10-19
  3. Admin. ASF Asia: Outbreaks in China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, North Korea, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Korea, and East Timor. Pig Progress. https://www.pigprogress.net/Health/African-Swine-Fever/ASF-China/All-outbreaks-and-transport-bans/. Retrieved 11-10-19
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