It may have started in Mexico with the first reported cases of swine flu but now it has become a major world issue. Thailand felt the effects of the first bird flu breakout in 2004, history is now repeating itself as swine flu has taken on international proportions.
Less than two days after the swine flu breakout in Mexico received worldwide attention, Thailand's 70 billion baht pork industry was preparing for the worst. Both Betagro and CPF, major pig farm operators, imposed additional protection measures to prevent the possible spread of the swine flu virus. But in the local markets, the reported outbreak of swine flu, first in Mexico and then worldwide, became the latest blow to the pork trade with vendors struggling hard to cope with the fast-dwindling demand, while consumers switched to chicken as their first protein choice, sparking an increase in poultry prices.
Lower number of piglets
Despite the Mexican flu outbreak, Yangyong Phuangrach, director-general of the Internal Trade Department reported that the price of pork had increased continuously as a lower number of piglets were being bred and because of the higher feed meal costs. Nonetheless, he said, the domestic pork price should not be expected to drop dramatically because of the swine flu outbreak as 100% of Thailand's pigs are fed in the country. Although the pork price was high at present, it is expected to drop due to a greater supply of pigs after the dry season.
Saha Farm chairman Panya Chotitawan said demand for chicken would increase slightly as consumers shun pork, "Chicken prices should rise slightly because of the brief impact from the fear of swine flu, however, prices should settle down once the panic was over,” he said.
Adirek Sripratak, president and CEO of Charoen Pokphand Foods, said any windfall for the chicken industry from the Mexican flu would be limited. "There are many choices of protein sources. Chicken is one of consumers' choices. Exports of the company are expected to grow steadily as usual," he said.
Impact on pork demand
Siripol Yodmuangcharoen, permanent secretary of the Commerce Ministry, said that despite the impact from swine flu on demand for pork, chicken and seafood exports should have a good year. Food exports have dropped by 5.1% to $2.72 billion so far this year due to the global economic downturn. However, the ministry expects full-year growth of 8.3% to $14.58 billion.
“The high standard of Thai foods should encourage their growth this year," he said.