Blog: Dean BestSwine flu sours Chinese love of pork

Dean Best | 21 September 2009

More than one in five Chinese are avoiding pork because they fear they could catch the H1N1 flu virus, a survey has found.

Pork is the meat of choice for most Chinese so resisting tasty mu xu rou or other popular pork dishes is not easy. But new research shows consumers reacted quickly to news of the flu. Almost two thirds of the 1,200 Chinese surveyed last month said they cut pork from their diets at the beginning of the outbreak.

That hurt exporters, which have seen demand from China surge in recent years. US exports to China fell from 3.161m pounds in May to only 1.861m pounds in June.

Domestic hog prices also dipped, underlining the fall-off in demand. “It was much more than I expected,” says Joel Haggard, senior VP for the US Meat Export Federation in Hong Kong.

Most Chinese are eating pork again but with the flu now reaching serious proportions some might be prepared to try anything to stay well. The country has reported 11,700 cases so far but officials warn that tens of millions of people could be affected in coming months.

The government has tried to reassure consumers that eating pork is not connected with flu risk. But “there’s still confusion out there,” according to Haggard. Consumer safety scandals have made many Chinese wary of government information.

Poor communication is not only damaging to public health. Weaker demand for pork comes after a year when both US and Chinese producers have ramped up production to benefit from higher prices. Now there could be something of a glut among the world’s biggest pork consumers.

Dominique Patton, Beijing correspondent


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