Editorial note: The text below is an introduction to the second of Initium's three, comprehensive installments on the changing nature of meat production and consumption in China (with an eye to One Health). It is translated from Chinese. Please check back again soon for the full story.
A plate of pork on your table or mine could be a story of booms and busts in wealth creation. You may become a millionaire overnight, or you may lose your family overnight, or your family may be ruined forever. The Chinese market raises and consumes nearly half of the world's live pigs; market share that determines the fate of every pig raised in China's remote villages. Although per capita consumption has stabilized in the country’s recent history, every 3-4 years, China undergoes a cycle of sharp increases and declines. This is known as the "pig” or “hog” cycle.
Over the past three years, China has experienced a "super pig cycle" unheard of in the history of pork development in the world, with unprecedented increases in pig prices. Such prices continued to rise for 33 months after June 2018, by 262%. This was the result of a major plague, African Swine Fever (ASF), an ancient virus that broke out in China in 2018 and wiped out huge numbers of the country's hogs. By 2019, China's pig population was down by 70%. They either died violently due to ASF, were put to death due to the risk of infection or simply sold out of panic. This caused a reversal of supply and demand in China's hog market, with supply falling far short of demand and hog prices rising sharply.
High profits in pig rearing have attracted many participants over the years, with legacy farmers increasing their investments, and a large number of newcomers following suit. Pig farming in China is, of course, the source of the country's domestic pork production, and nearly half of the farmers are individuals or operate small and medium-sized breeding plants. But more and more newcomers are entering the market, which means more and more pigs are being raised and sold. As a result, market prices plummet because the supply is much larger than the demand, and many people who enter this cycle become trapped. A large number of piglets are even abandoned.
In this super pig cycle game, bets are placed on one pig after another: sows, piglets and mast hogs. But in this particular gamble, the banker takes all the money. It is implied in the system that the only goal is to merely possess pigs. After all, who can resist the temptation of getting rich? The value of the chips is already predetermined.
To be continued...
This story was produced with the support of the Earth Journalism Network and was originally published in Chinese by Initium Media on September 4, 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: A pig on a pig farm / Credit: Lin Zhendong/Initium Media.