The African swine fever outbreak may have dissuaded Filipinos from eating pork but businessman Felix Tiukinhoy believes that shoppers in the Philippines will never remove ham from their Christmas shopping list.

As president of the Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc, Tiukinhoy said that he has received reports that the outbreak at some farms has led some companies to drop ham as a corporate gift item.

But the association’s president has seen through the years that most Filipinos usually buy ham one to two days before Christmas Eve.

It might be a last-minute buy, but as Tiukinhoy noted, “Filipinos will always have ham on their tables during Christmas”.

That sentiment has been echoed across the Asia-Pacific region as it prepares for the Christmas and Lunar New Year festivities. There is always a pork-based dish on Asian festive tables and not even the African swine fever, which has spread across various parts of the region this year, can stop people from feasting on the meat.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the global meat price index averaged 190.5 points in November, up 4.6 percent from October, representing the largest month-on-month increase since May 2009.

“Demand led by end-of-the-year festivities exacerbated the tightening of global meat markets, lifting pig meat prices further,” the FAO said.

Confirmed African swine fever cases have been reported in Vietnam, the Philippines, Cambodia, China and the Republic of Korea among other Asian countries.

The deadly animal disease has decimated pig herds and reduced the domestic pork supply.

While the virus does not infect humans, the outbreak has lifted prices and raised concerns about food safety.

In Vietnam, where packets of bahn chung, a traditional dish made of glutinous rice, mung beans and pork, are served during the Lunar New Year, known in Vietnam as Tet, the agriculture ministry has called on local farms to restock their pig herds. The Vietnamese government has also encouraged meat traders and processors to stock up on frozen pork ahead of the Jan 25 Tet holiday.

In Australia, consumers are likely to spend more for this year’s Christmas ham as local supply tightened because the farmers and traders are exporting pork to countries hit by the African swine fever. The price of live pigs has increased from around A$2.50 ($1.72) per kilogram last year to A$3.50 per kg in November this year, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences expects prices of live pigs to remain high on the back of strong import demand from Asian countries affected by the outbreak.

In the ROK and Japan, grilled pork belly and pork cutlet will remain in the menu.

The US Department of Agriculture has put this year’s pork consumption in the ROK at 2.044 million metric tons, slightly higher than the 2 million tons recorded in 2018. The USDA forecast pork consumption in the ROK to increase to 2.104 million tons next year.

For Japan, pork consumption in 2019 is seen at 2.79 million tons, up from 2.78 million tons in 2018. The forecast for Japanese pork demand next year is 2.81 million tons.

In Hong Kong, retail prices of fresh pork hit HK$160.3($20.50) per kilogram in October 2019, significantly higher than the HK$73.20 per kg quoted in October 2018. Demand for pork remains steady, despite reported outbreaks in the Chinese mainland where Hong Kong sources about 4,000 live pigs every day.

Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan said the Hong Kong government is “highly concerned” about low supply and high prices, and is studying the possibility of importing live pigs from Thailand and Malaysia.

In China, the winter holiday season is a peak period for pork consumption and not even reports about African swine fever can keep Chinese consumers from feasting on cured pork and pork dumplings, according to Angela Zhang, head of the business intelligence division at the Shanghai-based IQC Insights.

“Most Chinese consumers know that the African swine fever virus does not infect human beings,” she said.

Zhang said soaring prices may lead consumers to replace pork with beef or chicken.

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