China will auction 10,000 tonnes of pork from its state reserves as surging prices threaten to mar an important political holiday.
The sale on Thursday will be limited to 300 tonnes a bidder, according to the China Merchandise Reserve Management Centre.
The announcement comes in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October. The national celebrations will include a military parade and a week-long holiday during which pork will be a mainstay of family gatherings.
China faces growing discontent over the food staple, exacerbated by an African swine flu epidemic that wiped out at least a third of the country’s pigs. Pork is an important product in China and national and local governments have maintained strategic reserves of it since the 1970s. The exact amount in the reserves is a state secret.
Chinese officials have sought to reassure the public about pork supplies. The vice-premier, Hu Chunhua, said in August: “We should ensure pork supply by all means … and strictly rein in market speculation, actively boost production of alternative meat products and increase frozen pork reserves,” according to the state news agency, Xinhua.
Over the past year, China has been hit hard by African swine flu, a highly contagious disease that does not affect humans but is fatal to pigs. According to China’s official declared inventory, up to 100 million pigs have died as a result, said Adam Speck, a senior commodity analyst at IHS Markit’s Agribusiness Intelligence.
Rabobank, a financial services company that specialises in food and agriculture, predicted that this year China would lose between 20% and 70% of its herd: potentially 350 million pigs, a quarter of the world’s total. More than 1 million pigs have been culled, official figures show. In August, prices were up almost 50% compared with 2018.
Pork, which accounts for more than 60% of the country’s meat consumption, is considered a measure of financial wellbeing and a bellwether for other food prices. Even as pork prices have risen, the official consumer inflation rate has remained within the government’s target range, raising doubts about the reliability of government statistics.
Analysts say deploying the pork reserves will not be enough to lower prices, which are expected to continue rising in the run-up to Chinese new year in January.
To shore up supplies, Beijing has called on local governments to reverse earlier policies of closing smaller pig farms. The Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, said in August quotas for pig production should be established and subsidies allocated to larger farmers.
Officials have tried to quash negative debate on the topic, even humorous ones. The term “pork freedom”, which describes someone so wealthy they do not need to worry about the price of the meat, appears to be censored on the popular microblog Weibo.
After Li’s speech, an article on the WeChat social media network that accused the government of toying with the livelihoods of farmers. generated more than 100,000 views and thousands of comments.
The epidemic is affecting global markets. “ASF in China is turning out to be the largest global event for animal protein,” Speck said. “The impacts are going to completely change the global trade in animal protein over the next 10 years, and those changes will be permanent.
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