Hog virus in Japan pushes pork price

TOKYO - The most deadly outbreak of a hog virus in 18 years in Japan is raising pork prices and may boost imports by the biggest buyer, supporting a record rally in Chicago.

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The Agriculture Ministry has discovered 186,825 cases of porcine epidemic diarrhea in 251 farms in 19 prefectures since it confirmed the latest outbreak of the contagious disease in October. As many as 39,285 pigs have died, the highest number of fatalities since 1996, Tomoyuki Takeshita at the ministry’s animal health division, said today.

The US, Canada, South Korea and Taiwan have also reported outbreaks. More than 5,000 cases have been reported in the US, according to the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. American pork production may drop by the most in three decades this year, Rabobank International estimates. Futures climbed 49% last quarter, the biggest rally in 15 years, as the virus threatened U.S. production.

“The disease will start having an impact on pork supply from around June as it spread to Kagoshima and Miyazaki prefectures in December, and pigs become ready for slaughter after six months,” said Akio Tamai, a pork and beef markets researcher at Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corp. in Tokyo.

Futures for June delivery closed at $1.2055 a pound on April 4 on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Prices reached a record $1.33425 March 18. The virus has increased costs for hog- farm operators such as Smithfield Foods Inc. and Maschhoffs LCC.

Wholesale prices of pork carcasses traded on markets across Japan jumped 17% to 484 yen a kilogramme ($2.13 a pound) on average in February from a year earlier, data compiled by the ministry showed. Prices in Tokyo gained 2.2% to 519 yen a kilogramme on average on April 4 from a day earlier.

Prices in Japan will probably extend gains for the next six months, boosting costs for meat processors including Nippon Meat Packers Inc., as the piglet-killing illness shows no signs of abating and will worsen a seasonal decrease in supply during summer, according to Agriculture & Livestock Industries Corp.

Kagoshima is Japan’s biggest pork-producing prefecture, representing 14% of the total Japanese herd. Miyazaki is the second-largest producer with 8.7% share, according to the ministry.

The first case in the current outbreak was found in the southern island of Okinawa on Oct 1. Kagoshima has confirmed 153,000 cases of the disease, or 82 percent of the total.

Pork Imports

“Japanese demand may shift to imported meat because of an outbreak of the disease,” said Makiko Tsugata, an analyst at Market Risk Advisory Co., a researcher in Tokyo.

Japan is the world’s largest importer of pork, buying 1.24 million tons last year, representing 18 percent of global purchases, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. is the biggest exporter with 2.29 million tons in 2013.

The ministry called an emergency meeting of prefectural officials in charge of animal health and disease control on April 2 as the number of infected farms jumped in March. The virus may be spread by people amid transportation of feed, or by animals during their shipments to meat markets, Takeshita said.

The ministry expects 4.1 million pigs will be shipped from farms across Japan for slaughter for meat in the three months through June 30, down 1 percent from a year earlier. The disease may reduce actual shipments by about 1 percent, Tamai said.

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