African swine fever (AFS) is sweeping through China and is so virulent it has been dubbed a "pig Ebola". While the disease does not affect humans, it is devastating to pigs and potentially the world economy, as it is already having an impact on the global food chain. So why does New Zealand still import pork products from countries affected by African swine fever? The Country's Jamie Mackay spoke to former politician and current chairman of NZ Pork Eric Roy, who says banning imports is not as simple as it sounds.
Mackay: Eric these days you wear a different hat, that of NZ Pork chairman and you're very, very worried, like the rest of the world is, about African Swine Fever and us importing this dreaded disease, for which there is no cure, into this country.
Now the first thing is that it doesn't harm people, so that's good. But for millennia it's been contained within South Africa, it's endemic in warthogs. Somehow it's jumped into Eastern Europe, from there it's gone right to Belgium one way, and it's ramping up its way through China at the moment.
Pork's the biggest animal protein eaten in the world. If pigs get it, about half of them die and the rest of them are so sick you've got to kill them and you've got to do that to stop it spreading – so it's a big risk.
• NZ Pork steps up campaign against imports after another African swine outbreak hits Poland
Mackay: And there's no way in this country we can ever be self-sufficient in pork right?
Well, not at the moment and it's kind of hard to see that actually happening. As I say, we're about 45 per cent self-sufficient and we do rely on imports, mostly for the manufactured pork meats like bacon and salamis, those sorts of things. That's largely imported manufacturing pork meat.
Listen to the full interview below:
Mackay: How many countries are we importing pork from in this country?
About 25 and that included China until quite recently. They're in serious trouble with African swine fever. The interesting thing for those of your listeners that aren't pig farming – pork is the most eaten protein in the world, and current predictions about China is they're going to be short of protein by over eight million tonnes. So whatever impact that might have on our lamb, beef, chicken, fish, whatever else is out there, can only be a bit like throwing a dart at a dart board. But the impact is likely to have increasing prices across all sectors of protein.
Mackay: Yes well African swine fever is probably likely, as you say, to be a bit of a boon for the New Zealand economy. Why don't we just simply ban the import of pork from any country that has African swine fever?
It's kind of one of those interesting trade situations. We stand up and say 'we know that we've got TB in New Zealand and we're dealing with it and you can buy our product with confidence because we're right on top of that, we've got the best sanitary stuff in the world' and the moment we start and say someone else is not doing their job well enough, it starts a kind of trade war that Mr Trump is currently involved in for another reason. So it's a very touchy, difficult area to actually ban stuff without good reason to actually believe so.
And that's what we're working on now, in just saying 'how robust are the rules that we've actually got here? Can we actually invoke an embargo against some countries?
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African Swine Fever's effect on NZ's beef market
• Also in today's interview, Roy talks about how New Zealand's pork industry fares against beef and lamb, and discusses the National Party's latest poll results.