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Rabobank@ (Adding details and background)
BEIJING, July 30 (Reuters) - China's pig herd could halve by the end of 2019 from a year earlier as an epidemic of African swine fever sweeps through the world's top pork producer, analysts at Dutch bank Rabobank forecast on Tuesday.
The bank said China's herd, by far the world's biggest, was already estimated to have shrunk by 40% from a year ago, well above official estimates which have ranged from 15% to 26%.
The forecast comes amid industry speculation that the decline has been much worse than confirmed by agriculture officials, who this month launched an investigation of local authorities' efforts to contain the disease.
Rabobank said China's pork production in 2019 was expected to fall by 25 percent from the previous year, a smaller drop than pig herd loss due to the large number of animals slaughtered in first half of 2019.
Output of pork, China's favorite meat, will likely drop by a further 10% to 15% in 2020, it said in a report.
Production may take more than 5 years to recover to levels prior to the deadly outbreaks as challenges including a lack of solutions to prevent the disease and a lack of capital will restrict restocking, it added.
Reuters reported earlier this month that as many as half of China's breeding pigs have either died from African swine fever or been slaughtered because of the spreading disease.
Rabobank, which late last year estimated China's pig herd at 360 million animals, said in April that up to 200 million pigs could be culled or die due to the disease, while pork output could fall by 30 percent. (Reporting by Hallie Gu and Shivani Singh; editing by Richard Pullin)