China's food supply imperiled

China's food supply is being imperiled as new reports warn that up to 50 percent of China's 440 million pigs are now at risk from African Swine Fever infection.

The South China Morning Post reported that Chairman Chan Kin Yip of the Federation of Hong Kong Agricultural Associations claimed that Chinese mainland pig farmers told him African Swine Fever has spread to 30 percent of mainland pigs, while another Hong Kong pig farmer based in China told Yip the exposure rate is as high as 50 percent.

With $23.8 billion of agricultural imports from the U.S. in 2017, retaliatory tariffs directly aimed at President Trump's rural voter base were expected to be China's hammer to bludgeon the U.S. into abandoning its trade war.  Accounting for 17 percent of U.S. agricultural exports, Chinese customers were number one in soybeans, number two in pork and hay, number three in dairy and poultry, number four in beef, and number five in wheat. 

First detected in August 2018, the raging pandemic of highly communicable African Swine Fever has spread to every mainland province and Hong Kong.  The virus causes blackened lesions, diarrhea, abortion, respiratory illness, and then death in seven to ten days.

With production declines of 35 percent and prices spiking 40 percent, the disease is wreaking havoc on the China's $128-billion-a-year pork industry.  Although Beijing has encouraged the provinces to provide financial support to large-scale pig farms, the loss of sales and cost to cull up to 220 million infected pigs is a huge burden on the people.

The African Swine Fever has jumped the Chinese border to over 52 cities in Vietnam, leading to the culling of more than 2 million pigs.  With the fear of the disease growing, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc instructed various ministries to urge more pig culling.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, partnering with the Department of Agriculture, confiscated 1 million pounds of Chinese pork smuggled into a port in New Jersey in March.  Meat was mislabeled and hidden "among other products such as ramen noodles and tide detergent pods" in 50 shipping containers, according to the Feed Navigator.

Tightening of customs controls at Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and Taiwan borders is beginning to cause delivery delays in Asia's highly integrated production supply chains.

Geopolitical Futures emphasizes that China's food supply is also being endangered due to other developing risks.  The Fall Armyworm has spread to 220,000 acres (89,000 hectares) in Southern China, ruining primarily corn and some sugarcane crops.  With no natural predators in China, the USDA warned that "there is a high probability that the pest will spread across all of China's grain production area within the next 12 months."

The Chinese government recently confirmed another episode of A(H5N6) bird flu in China's Xinjiang Province.  The outbreak killed only 1,015 of 2,545 birds in the area, but an additional 11,900 will be culled to prevent the disease's spread.  A(H5N6) avian flu is considered especially dangerous because the World Health Organization has identified A(H5N6) as a trans-species virus that mutated in 2016 to begin infecting humans.

Geopolitical Futures cautions regarding China existential risks, "[E]ven if food supplies can be met (which is in question at this point), rising prices also pose a threat to food availability to a country with high levels of low-income and poverty-stricken families."