Background 2074 views last update:Feb 25, 2016

Crimea and pig production

Is the Crimean crisis good or bad news for pig production? This question has been on my mind for some time while watching the growing tensions in the peninsula over the last week.

First of all, the more I watch and read, the fewer I understand what is really happening in Crimea. Some call it an invasion of Russian soldiers, Moscow says it just happens without them being actively involved and just when you think things may calm down, the Crimean parliament decides to join the Russian Federation. In the meantime nervous diplomatic phone calls are being made and the world holds its breath.

Whether the Crimean crisis is good or bad news for pig production,  most probably depends on your location and whether you have a long-term or a short-term view.

For the short-term view, there is fear that growing tensions may directly or indirectly lead to a disruption of agricultural trade. On one hand, prices for wheat have already grown sharply in e.g. Chicago, as Ukraine is one of the major producers of wheat. In addition, the Russians sent quite a lot of gas and oil abroad. Prices for agricultural goods from Europe, on the other, may drop strongly, as export demand from Russia or Ukraine could fall away due to the conflict or economic sanctions. It will have an effect on prices if these products will have to be sold elsewhere.

In pig production, there is another, coinciding effect, being that Russia in February closed its borders to pork from the whole of the European Union due to the discovery of several African Swine Fever (ASF) infected wild boars in Poland and Lithuania. In order for the country to keep the supermarkets full with pork, it needs to import from elsewhere.

From the USA perhaps? As from last year, the United States could not export pork due to concerns over the use of the feed additive ractopamine – this ban would need lifting. There have been plans to resume the imports from two Smithfield subsidiary companies as from March 10. Whether or not this will continue is not completely clear as this week there was a sudden request from Rosselkhoznadzor for additional guarantees – also the week when the US criticised Russia for its actions on the Crimea.

Brazil is another option – the country exported pork to Russia in the past and would be keen to step up the exports again. Brazil has been approached by the Russian watchdog in late February. Should the US continue to criticise Russia for its actions, pork trade from Latin America may profit big time.

For the long term, I wonder what the Crimea situation will mean for the ASF situation.Lack of knowledge or a failure of a coordinated approach has often been quoted to have accelerated the unlimited expansion of ASF. The disease continues to be found in new areas in Russia, with experts estimating it still spreads by about 1 km per day. In addition, reports reach me about the continuous hunting and shooting of wild boars in Belarus leading to unwanted effects as the animals flee west, right into the European Union.

In this perspective, it is wise to turn to South Africa, where they did know how to deal with the disease. As Mary-Louise Penrith and Tom Spencer wrote in Pig Progress in late 2012, a discovery in a small piggery led to a firm reaction. ASF does exist in the country's North West control area, but using clear compartmentalisation, double-fenced biosecurity and safety guarantees, pig production is considered safe there. Within this framework, a quick and coordinated action sufficed to avoid any long-term damage.

Whatever the outcome will be of the Crimean crisis, I hope they are soon turning their attention to their common enemy.

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