Will Pigs the Size of Polar Bears Save China’s Pork Industry?

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Some Chinese pig farmers are raising pigs as big as polar bears to bulk up the size of the pigs they are selling to market while African swine fever (ASF) decimates the country’s pork supply.

These giant pigs are crossing the scale around 1,100 pounds – about the size of a black rhinoceros, Bloomberg reports. At slaughter, these pigs can sell for more than $1,399, over three times higher than the average monthly disposable income in the area.

Desperate times call for desperate measures
And, it’s not just the smaller, niche farmers chasing this trend, Bloomberg reports. Major protein producers in China, including Wens Foodstuffs Group Co., the country’s top pig breeder, Cofco Meat Holdings Ltd. and Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Co. say they are trying to increase the average weight of their pigs. 

Big farms in China are increasing market weights at least 14%, said Lin Guofa, a senior analyst with consulting firm Bric Agriculture Group. Average slaughter weights at some large facilities are topping 310 pounds compared to the typical weights of 243 pounds. 

Meanwhile, pork shortages caused by ASF’s devastation of China’s pig herd are resulting in soaring pork prices. Wholesale pork prices have surged more than 70% while pig inventories have plunged drastically.

Chinese leaders are encouraging local governments to resume pig production as soon as possible. China is facing a pork shortage of 10 million tons this year, more than what’s available in global trade, said Chinese Vice Premier Hu Chunhua.

Will bigger pigs help China?
In a recent Meat Matters column, author Anna Dilger said the answer seems to be yes, bigger may be better for pork production.

“At this time, pork producers can feel comfortable that increases in market weights will not result in poor quality pork. When producers and packers realize the benefit of economies of scale in producing heavier pigs and consumers continue to enjoy a high-quality eating experience, everyone wins big,” Dilger says.

Recent work by Dilger and her collaborators published in Meat and Muscle Biology indicated that increasing carcass weights up to live market weights of approximately 425 pounds had no negative effects on meat quality.

But bigger pigs ultimately raise concerns, too, she adds. Are barns, trailers and processing facilities equipped to handle pigs that large? Do we understand the nutritional requirements of these pigs? 

The answer may not be polar-bear-sized pigs yet but raising pigs to heavier weights could be a way to increase pork supply and boost profits for pig farmers facing unparalleled challenges in China.

ASF is a deadly disease of pigs, but poses no food safety risk and does not impact people. Read the latest news on ASF at porkbusiness.com/ASF.

More from Farm Journal's PORK:

Meat Matters: Is Bigger Better?


ASF’s Impact on Global Pork Market is Underestimated

John Phipps: Why ASF Outbreak Estimates in China Are Hogwash