African swine fever helps drive world food prices to two-year high

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2226363-african-swine-fever-helps-drive-world-food-prices-to-two-year-high/

An open-air market in Hong Kong

An open-air market in Hong Kong

GlowonConcept/Getty Images

The slaughter of half of China’s pigs due to a virus raging across Asia and Europe has helped drive world food prices to a two-year high.

The United Nations said today that global food prices rose significantly in November, up nearly 10 per cent on the same month last year, pushed up by a combination of rising meat and vegetable oil prices.

Between October and November this year, meat prices jumped by 4.6 per cent on the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) meat price index, the biggest month-on-month rise for more than a decade.

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One reason is that China has increased its imports of meat other than pork to fill the gap left after many of its domestically produced pigs were killed due to African swine fever. World food prices rose the most for beef and mutton, the FAO said, buoyed by strong demand for imports, particularly from China as end-of-year festivities approach.

“African swine fever is obviously a huge reality in the world. It has pushed up the meat index over the course of the year. And it has led to China importing a lot of other meat, also pushing up prices,” says a spokesperson for the FAO.

Between January and October, pork imports to China were up 49 per cent, and beef imports 54 per cent. However, while this has contributed to the food price rises announced today, the effect is limited by the fact that Chinese imports are dwarfed by the country’s domestic production. Some of the gap in pig production due to African swine fever has been filled by ramped-up domestic poultry production.

While cereal production is set to hit a record high this year – up 2.1 per cent on 2018 to 2.7 billion tonnes – vegetable oils bumped up global food prices last month. The FAO’s vegetable food oils index was up 10.4 per cent in November, driven in part by Indonesia requiring more biodiesel be blended in with petrol supplies, in turn diverting more palm oil from food to energy.

Separately, figures from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today show the amount of crops grown for energy in the UK dropped last year, with the area of wheat grown for bioethanol falling substantially. The Renewable Energy Association, a trade body, said the decline was due to a hiatus on the UK government deciding whether to increase the amount of ethanol in petrol, from 5 per cent today to 10 per cent.

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