Avian flu and swine fever, two epidemics forgotten in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, risk disrupting markets again and leading to rising food prices

In Europe, “the number of outbreaks of bird flu has increased even more than in difficult years,” Monique Eloit, head of the World Organization for Animal Health, told Reuters.

In tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, two other epidemics are evolving, bird flu and swine fever, which, while not having its devastating economic effects, may affect trade and ultimately the purchasing power of the common man.

The damage caused by bird flu in Europe is approaching 2016 levels. In one of the most affected countries, Poland, egg production is declining due to a lack of chickens. This is a sign that the virus is starting to create tensions in the poultry industry, writes Reuters. Worse, a few days ago, the Russian authorities announced that they had detected what they believe to be a human infection with the H5N8 bird flu virus.

“If this is confirmed, it would be the first time H5N8 has infected people,” said a World Health Organization official. Bulgaria’s food safety agency reported earlier this month that it had discovered the first outbreak of bird flu this year in a town near the Romanian border. Meanwhile, German authorities continue to find wild boar dead from the African swine fever, a sign that the epidemic is spreading from Poland to the west. Germany is one of the largest producers of pork in Europe, and the discovery last year of wild pigs killed by the disease has blocked exports to Asian countries.

A few days ago, researchers in China, where the plague destroyed farm pig populations in 2018 and 2019, published a study showing that new strains of the virus are circulating in this country, causing more mild forms of the disease, making it more difficult. to detect cases of infection. China‘s Ministry of Farms sees a complete recovery of the pig population by the middle of this year. But new outbreaks of plague and other deadly diseases call into question the official outlook, Bloomberg notes.

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There is no treatment for the disease, and in 2018 and 2019 the epidemic led to the halving of the domestic pig population, the result being a sharp increase in meat imports and prices. China is the largest producer of pork, but also the world‘s largest consumer. The Chinese economy’s role in the world makes the country an exporter of inflation.

In recent months, the Beijing government’s efforts to stimulate the rapid recovery of the pig population have baffled global agricultural markets, causing massive shortages of feed grain and emptying silos to North America.

Officially, China‘s pig population returned to 90% of normal in November. But the winter was particularly severe in some regions and amplified the effects of deadly diseases. In Germany, pig and piglet prices have started to rise again as the market recovers from the shake-up caused by Asian import bans and declining slaughterhouse capacity, which is forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reports.

Import bans have created a surplus of pigs, and the closure of slaughterhouses has reduced the supply of pork. Thus, pig farmers

they were seen in the situation of selling cheap pigs raised with more expensive feed. German producers have tried to solve the problem of surplus by selling more in other markets in the European Union. Germany is not only a producer of pork, but also an importer because it is one of the leading producers and exporters of sausages in Europe.

Prices are rising again as widespread prices rise in several markets, although Europe has not emerged from the crisis created by the pandemic. “The market is getting stronger again, and optimism is returning,” said a German meat trader. “Sales of German pigs in EU markets are strong. The problem of pig congestion, of animals that cannot be taken to the slaughterhouse, is gradually being solved in Germany and also in Denmark. “

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Avian influenza, the other disease that disrupts food markets, is present in several European countries, where it decimates bird populations and strikes farmers who are already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Asia also has problems with this highly contagious H5N8 virus. In Russia, the virus may also have infected people who worked on a poultry farm, raising concerns that it will undergo mutations that will allow it to be transmitted from person to person. The disease tends to manifest itself strongly in autumn, with the virus being carried by migratory birds on their way from Asia to Europe.

“The number of outbreaks has increased even more than in difficult years,” Monique Eloit, head of the World Organization for Animal Health, told Reuters. About five million birds have been slaughtered in Poland, Europe’s largest poultry producer.

The total represents only a small part of Europe’s bird population, and the market still shows no signs of a chicken shortage approaching. But the loss of laying hens has reduced the supply of eggs and put upward pressure on prices. Egg prices rose by 18-20% at the end of January, according to an industry association. Prices for these products are rising in several European countries, including France and Germany, according to Eurostat data.

In other countries with significant production, such as Spain, no such developments are observed.

Poland is the sixth largest producer of eggs in Europe. To protect their hens, some farmers keep their animals indoors, but this means poorer quality eggs.

German farmers fear that in these conditions they will see their exports decimated. Germany exports eggs to the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Poland.

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In France, bird flu has hit mainly duck farms that supply raw materials to the country’s foie gras industry. Avian flu, like other epidemics, often leads to trade restrictions.

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