China feels the heat from sizzling pork prices

A customer pays a vendor selling pork at a market in Beijing, China, on March 25, 2016.
A customer pays a vendor selling pork at a market in Beijing, China, on March 25, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS
 Meat stalls are seen at a market in Beijing.
Meat stalls are seen at a market in Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

When it comes to pork, China is the world's no. 1 consumer and producer. But now soaring prices of the favourite source of protein of the Chinese have forced the country's capital into an unprecedented purge of its reserves.

Over the next two months beginning on Thursday (May 4), Beijing will release 3.05 million kilograms of frozen pork from its reserves in an effort to cool rising pork prices that jumped by as much as 50 per cent in April, reports said.

The Beijing municipal government will sell 50,000kg of pork each day to 121 supermarket chains in the city of some 22 million residents, the Beijing Municipal government announced this week.

The authorities will also provide a subsidy of 9 yuan (S$1.88) per kilogram to incentivise supermarkets to cut pork prices for consumers.

China's raw pork prices have jumped 50.6 percent month on month in April, according to official data. The rise continues this month, with prices reaching 20.9 yuan per kg on Wednesday, up 4.5 per cent from the previous week and 24.4 per cent for the year to date, according to the Financial Times.

A consumer identified only by her surname Zhong who told China News Service that a supermarket she frequents in Beijing was lowering pork prices by 2.5-4.5 yuan less per kg during the two-month pork release period.

"Pork prices are finally coming down," Ms Zhong was quoted as saying.

Part of the meaty problem stems from soaring demand from the country's swelling middle class, reports said. The country as a whole ate 57 million tonnes of pork last year.

Meanwhile supply has fallen as a result of previously low profits, tougher environmental rules, and an outbreak of disease earlier this year which killed many piglets.

At last count in January, said the Financial Times, China's total stock of sows was just shy of 38 million, down from a peak of more than 50 million in late 2012.

As a result, imports soared 90 per cent in the year to March to a record 286,093 tonnes, according to figures from the General Administration of Customs, which was still only a tiny fraction of total consumption.