One fix for China’s alarming pork shortage: giant pigs

Breeders are cashing in on China’s pork shortage.
Breeders are cashing in on China’s pork shortage.
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A deadly virus has wiped out as much as half of China’s pig population. That’s a big problem for a country whose default meat is pork. As prices soar, the government is trying to induce farmers to raise more swine.

But one enterprising farmer has a better—or at least bigger—idea: breed gargantuan pigs.

A farm owner in southern China is raising a pig that tips the scale at 500 kilograms (around 1,100 pounds)—about what a black rhinoceros weighs—reports Bloomberg. That compares with an average weight at slaughter of somewhere between 110 and 125 kilos, according to the report. And the farmer in question isn’t the only one with this strategy: As Bloomberg details, a slew of major pig farms are bulking up the size of the pigs they’re breeding.

Heftier pigs translate to heftier profits, of course. But thanks to African swine fever, which first began wiping out pigs in Aug. 2018, even svelte pigs are a good business at the moment.

Pork prices have surged 47% since last year, and they’re set to climb further. “Since China produces and consumes over half the world’s pork, it can’t rely on overseas supply,” said Capital Economics analysts in a recent email to Quartz. By early 2020, prices could be 80% higher than they were in early 2019, they add.

More worryingly still, initiatives to boost production could well exacerbate the crisis, explains Ernan Cui, analyst at Gavekal Dragonomics, a Beijing-based research firm.

By setting recent subsidies for virus-hit farms below market prices, the government encourages farmers to keep outbreaks mum and slaughter their herds instead, said Cui in an email last month. The policy sticks local officials with the subsidy bill, discouraging disclosure even more. That will make the spread harder to contain and grossly understate the scale of epidemic—problems that even Brobdingnagian hogs can’t fix.