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UPDATE 1-China's pork consumption falls as African swine fever spreads

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WUHAN, China, May 17 (Reuters) - A decline in Chinese pork consumption is keeping a lid on prices, an executive at China's top pig producer Wens Foodstuff Group said on Friday, even as pork output slumps in the country, the world's biggest producer of the meat.

The fall in consumption comes as an epidemic of African swine fever has ravaged China's pig herd, the world's largest, curbing demand for the country's favorite meat.

African swine fever kills almost all pigs infected but does not harm people. However, news of the disease was having "a psychological effect," leading consumers to reduce pork consumption over the short-term, Luo Xufang, president of Wens' pig industry division told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry event.

China slaughters almost 700 million pigs a year and pork is by far the most widely eaten meat.

Wens is the country's largest pig farmer and also biggest producer of poultry.

Luo did not provide details of the consumption decline but pork prices have risen little since the start of April, despite an increasing decline in hog production.

China's sow herd in April fell 22.3 percent compared with the same month a year earlier, data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs showed this week.

The country's pork prices are also being kept in check as frozen pork stocks are being sold since slaughterhouses have slowed down business in order to comply with new rules to test for African swine fever.

Still, the industry is expecting prices to rise in the second half, with production still falling.

"With the disease still present, it will keep falling," Qin Yinglin, president of Muyuan Foods, China's second-largest pig farmer, told Reuters.

Chinese Vice premier Hu Chunhua said late on Thursday that pig farmers must be encouraged to restock farms as worries grow over the impact of rising pork prices on the economy and social stability.

However, farmers are nervous about repopulating farms that have had outbreaks because of the risk of new pigs catching the fatal disease if the farm has not been properly decontaminated.

Chen Guanghua, an official with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, said the government needed to issue further measures to support a recovery in production.

Luo told the conference he was not aware of any successful replenishment of infected farms. Qin told Reuters later that his company had successfully repopulated farms, without giving details.

"Repopulation is very fast. We've done it very well, its successful," he said.

China has reported 126 outbreaks of African swine fever on domestic pig farms but it has not confirmed the disease on many large producers. Industry insiders say many large-scale farms have experienced numerous outbreaks.

(Reporting by Dominique Patton; writing by Hallie Gu; editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger)