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CHICAGO, July 17 (Reuters) - Chicago Mercantile Exchange lean hog futures soared by the daily limit and approached a one-month high on Wednesday on renewed hopes that China will increase pork imports to compensate for pigs killed in a widespread outbreak of a fatal swine disease.
China's agriculture ministry said a new outbreak of African swine fever had been confirmed in Sichuan province in the southwest of the country.
The world's biggest pork consumer has reported more than 140 outbreaks of the disease, for which there is no vaccine or cure, since the first case last August.
China's imports of U.S. pork have so far fallen short of American farmers' expectations. However, a recent increase in Chinese pork prices is raising expectations that China may now start a major buying program, said Don Roose, president of Iowa-based broker U.S. Commodities.
"Demand pressures are starting to hit China," Roose said. "The logical conclusion that the trade wants to believe is that this is the start of Chinese interest in the U.S."
CME August lean hog futures closed up 2.950 cents at 82.000 cents per pound, after climbing by the daily, exchange-imposed 3-cent limit. October hogs jumped 2.525 cents to finish at 77.825 cents and traded at its highest price since June 20.
Major pork imports by China would help reduce U.S. meat inventories that swelled as farmers increased herd sizes and meat packers slaughtered more animals.
Packers on Wednesday slaughtered 463,000 hogs, up from 460,000 a year ago, and 122,000 cattle, up from 118,000 a year earlier, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
"We'd been supply bearish, but have turned more demand bullish with China markets trying to move up," Roose said about pork. "The buying could be so significant."
African swine fever has also spread in other Asian countries, including Vietnam and Laos, and parts of Europe.
Bulgaria stepped up measures to contain the disease, while the Philippines suspended meat imports from Germany after it was found to contain pork bones from Poland, which has an outbreak of African swine fever.
In cattle markets, declining beef prices weighed on livestock prices, traders said.
CME August live cattle futures closed down 0.100 cent at 108.125 cents per pound. CME October cattle slid 0.500 cent to 108.750 cents per pound.
CME August feeder cattle futures stumbled 0.475 cent to 140.575 cents per pound. September feeders declined 1.100 cents to 140.775 cents per pound. (Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)