As the most populous nation on Earth, China has intermittently been seen as the solution to the problem created by the ability of U.S. farmers to produce more than they can sell at a profitable price. Sometimes the discussion is focused on cotton; at other times it is corn or soybeans. Today, it is pork—on the hoof that is. 

A recent Reuters article, provides an explanation for the surge in the import of live pigs into China. From 2002 to 2007, China imported a total of 13,000 head of swine, while from 2008 to 2011, live swine imports totaled 39,000 head—15,000 in 2011 alone. According to Reuters, China is importing breeding swine, “capitalizing on decades of cutting-edge U.S. agricultural research.”

Presently, “the focus on livestock genetics also represents an emerging economic bonanza for two of the most powerful American industries: technology and agriculture. Worldwide, the United States exported a record $664 million worth of breeding stock and genetic material like semen.” Depending on the species, the advanced genetics provides farmers worldwide with better daily rates of gain, better feed conversion rates, and larger litters. 

While this market is lucrative for farmers who specialize in producing breeding sows and supplying semen from productive animals, it has long-term implications for U.S. meat and grain producers. 

As U.S. per capita consumption of red meat has declined over the last decade, exports of pork have nearly quadrupled, and beef exports have recovered from the BSE event. This increase in exports has provided a bright spot in an otherwise stagnating market. 

With potential major markets like China purchasing, not animals for slaughter but animals with all of the best genetics the U.S. has developed, the future of that market begins to look somewhat limited as the Chinese begin to gear up to move hog production out of the backyards of millions of farmers and into modern high-production facilities like those used across much of the U.S. 

A separate Reuters article “China’s voracious appetite spurs farm expansion,” lists 10 firm in China, some with links to the U.S. meat industry, that are gearing up to use the imported genetics to increase their production and slaughter capacity to meet the growing Chinese demand for meat, which has increased by 10 percent over the last five years. These 10 firms represent both producers of hogs and large-scale meat processors.

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