China's pork output fell by less than expected in the first half as the country tackles a devastating disease outbreak, although official data showed conflicting figures on the size of the decline in the hog herd.
China produced 24.7 million tonnes of pork in the first six months of 2019, down 5.5% from a year earlier, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics, amid a severe epidemic of African swine fever.
China's hog herd — the world's largest — declined 15% from a year ago to 347.61 million head, the bureau said, as pigs died from the virus and farmers held back from restocking.
But figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs on the same day said the herd had shrunk 25.8% in June from a year earlier, with the number of sows down 26.7%. The ministry does not publish total number of pigs.
Analysts were surprised at the fall in pork output, which showed the pace of decline little changed from 5.2 percent in the first quarter, even as swine fever has spread to every province in China.
"It's much smaller than expected," said Feng Yonghui, chief analyst at industry portal Soozhu.com. "The gap between this and the decline in pig herd is too big."
Feng said pork output should have declined by more than 10%.
The number of slaughtered hogs in the first half fell 6.2% to 313.46 million head, the statistics bureau said.
Others have also questioned official data on China's hog herd. Four people who supply large farms recently told Reuters as many as half of China's sows have either died from African swine fever or been slaughtered because of the spreading disease.
African swine fever is not harmful to humans but kills almost all pigs it infects.
Live hog prices were steady through much of the second quarter but began rising "fiercely" in early June, said Feng. Average prices have hit 17.8 yuan ($2.59) per kilogram, up from 14.2 yuan at the end of May.
Retail pork prices reached 26.45 yuan per kg in the final week of June, up 33% on the year, according to weekly data from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, but still some way off the record of 31.56 yuan in June 2016.
Rising pork prices are pushing overall food prices to their highest in years.
Beijing has urged poultry producers to boost output to help supplement the fall in pork production.
Output of poultry meat rose 5.6% in the first six months, while beef output increased 2.4% and lamb output rose 1.4%, the bureau said.
Total meat output including pork, beef, lamb and poultry fell 2.1% in the first half to 39 million tonnes.